Work and family responsibility are the key features of a proposed welfare policy that Congress is expected to pass in the next month or so.
If the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-New York, passes, welfare mothers with infants may be required to accept federally subsidized day care in order to receive job training and find part-time work. Those who refuse could lose their public assistance grants. And absentee fathers would be forced to contribute to their family's support through payroll deductions.Not everyone agrees with the proposal. The Reagan administration says the policy would cost too much - about $3 billion over the first five years - and the work policies are not tough enough. Advocates of higher welfare benefits call the change "punitive" and charge it will perpetuate poverty.
But proponents say the cost will be minimal because of the expected savings when mothers successfully leave the welfare rolls and begin to support their own families with their newly acquired skills.
The program is actually very similar to the Utah welfare reform pilot project scheduled to begin officially in Davis County June 1.
Both put emphasis on providing the skills, training and self-confidence needed to help a welfare recipient become self-sufficient. By providing daytime child care, schooling and job search assistance, the programs hope to enable recipients to care for their own needs - and those of their children - on a long-term basis.
It is widely agreed that serious problems exist in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program now in place. Although there is disagreement about the form welfare reform should take, this legislation seems like a positive first step toward a workable, efficient system.
Under Moynihan's bill, absentee fathers of welfare-supported children would be tracked down and forced to contribute to the child's support. Social Security numbers of both parents would have to be furnished to authorities at the time of birth. If paternity had not been established, federal money would pay for the blood tests to do so. And court-ordered child support payments would be deducted automatically from the father's wages.
It's time to put together a national policy that enables the poor to grow and become stronger. It's certainly a place to start.