Georgia hunger activist Sandra Robertson sees millions of starving children thrown out in the street because of the welfare compromise announced Wednesday. But U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood's office said the bill is really the crack of light from a door of opportunity long shut and now opening.
President Clinton announced Wednesday he would sign a compromise welfare reform bill that limits benefits to five years and returns many federal programs for the poor over to the states in the form of block grants.
The move was welcomed by Dr. Norwood, who has supported two previous welfare reform efforts that were vetoed by Mr. Clinton.
"We are absolutely delighted the president has agreed to finally sign something," John Stone, Dr. Norwood's spokesman said Wednesday.
The president's announcement came despite a nationwide press conference by some advocates for the poor urging a veto, a press conference that included Georgia Citizens' Coalition on Hunger, said Ms. Robertson of Atlanta, the coalition's director.
Few people realize what the bill will do, and when the details are known, the public will turn against it, she said.
"Most people, when put to the test, do not want to see babies and children hungry and homeless on the street," Ms. Robertson said.
But Mr. Stone said the bill is what the public has been clamoring for and will end what he called decades of entrapment in the old system.
"It's time to start putting a little hope back" into the system, he said.
Signing the bill would help Mr. Clinton fulfill a 1992 campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it" and remove an issue Republicans could use against him in the fall. But Ms. Robertson said signing the bill could actually backfire on him in November.
"Particularly if he expects to get Democratic or poor people's votes, if he's expecting to get African-American votes or Latino votes, or people of color's votes," she said.
Provisions of the welfare bill agreed upon Tuesday by House and Senate negotiators:
- Ends federal entitlement to welfare benefits, limits lifetime welfare assistance to five years and requires able-bodied adults to work after two years. Hardship exemptions would be allowed for up to 20 percent of each state's caseload.
- Replaces Aid to Families with Dependent Children with block grants totaling $16.4 billion to states, which would run their own programs, setting eligibility requirements and benefit levels.
- Continues Medicaid as an entitlement to families on welfare and continues coverage for one year for people who leave welfare to go to work.
- Lets states deny Medicaid to any adult who loses welfare benefits because of a failure to meet work requirements.
- Tightens restrictions on children's eligibility for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits.
- Denies cash aid and food stamps to anyone convicted of felony drug charges. Pregnant women and adults in drug treatment would be exempted and family members could still get benefits. States could opt out of or modify the provision.
- Reduces funding for the Title XX social services block grant by 15 percent. States could still use this money - and other funds transferred to this grant from the welfare block grant - for non-cash, voucher assistance for children whose parents have exhausted their eligibility for assistance.
- Tightens compliance provisions to ensure that only the eligible working poor can benefit from the earned income tax credit.
- Requires states to deduct at least one-quarter of the benefits for aid applicants who fail to help determine the fathers of their children.
- Prohibits non-citizens who are not U.S. military veterans or have not worked and paid taxes in America for at least 10 years from any SSI or food stamp benefits. Also prohibits future legal immigrants who are not citizens from receiving most federal benefits during their first five years in the country.
- Excludes illegal aliens from most federal means-tested benefits other than emergencies and cases of communicable disease. States could deny Medicaid benefits to non-citizens who arrive after the bill is enacted.
- Makes students eligible for school lunch programs as long as they are legally eligible for free public education. The House-passed immigration bill would let states bar illegal aliens from public schools. If that provision became law, this part of the welfare bill could make some illegal alien children ineligible for the school lunch programs.
- Requires the spending of $14 billion over the next six years for child care, more than $3 billion above current funding.
- Childless nonworkers ages 18 to 50 can qualify for food stamps only for six months during a three-year period, and only for three consecutive months at a time. If the worker is laid off from a job after using up three months of benefits, he could get another three months without a work requirement while he looked for a new job. To continue the benefits would require working 20 hours a week.
- Freezes at $134 per month the standard deduction allowed for a person getting food stamps, meaning that much in monthly income would not be counted against eligibility for the program. The shelter deduction could rise some from the current $247 per month level, but then would be capped.