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Welfare to work prelude to squalor

During his April 10 radio address, President Clinton congratulated himself fulsomely on his part in ending welfare as we knew it.

Clinton hailed those Americans previously on welfare who on April 15 would be paying taxes for the first time in a long while, a happy sign that they are employed. Meanwhile, in many states, former welfare recipients who never made it onto the W-2 line or who fell off -- as 30 percent did -- in the first six months, simply found themselves hungrier than ever on April 15.

While the president called for more money from Congress to help with additional transportation, child care and housing, he said nothing about the need to find out what’s happening to those who are falling through the safety net.

There are groups that have taken on the work of tracking them. NCR’s cover story reports on their efforts. With more American children going to bed hungry as a result of welfare reform, it appears that no matter how Herculean the efforts of the voluntary social service efforts sector, they probably cannot match the new needs created by welfare reform. Our reporting only hints at the Dickensian squalor to come.

Pax Christi USA was a cooperating member of the two-year project to monitor welfare reform conducted by Network, the Catholic social justice lobby (see page TK). When Pax Christi recently called welfare reform “a denial of human rights,” it recalled the forecast made by David Beckmann, Bread for the World president, when the 1996 welfare reform bill was enacted:

“More than ending welfare as we know it, this bill will create hunger as we’ve never seen before. Most of the country’s charities and religious bodies opposed this bill. The politicians have done what they think the voters want. But in several years, when the devastating effects of this bill become fully apparent, decent people will be horrified.”

Two years have passed since the 1996 bill went into effect. The first intimations of the scandals possible ahead -- especially increased child hunger -- are being collated. Clinton would have done well to address those realities in his radio talk.

National Catholic Reporter, April 30, 1999