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Keeping families strong. US Education Department report sees welfare policy doing just the opposite

Government policies - including any changes in the welfare system - should be built on strengthening the family, not weakening it, a new administration study says. The current welfare system, it adds, ``contributes to the failure to form the family in the first place. ... The availability of welfare in all of its forms has become a powerful force for destruction of family life through perpetuation of the welfare culture.''

The report, by a task force chaired by Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Bauer, is on the family. It offers perspectives on reasons underlying the weaknesses in the American family today, on ways to strengthen the family, and on government's proper role in that process.

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The Bauer report is the second of three major studies on which the administration will base new domestic programs. Taken together, they paint a picture generally in keeping with past Reagan policy. They advocate more reliance on the private sector and less government participation in social programs, and - where government action is required - more emphasis on local and state action.

The two thus set the stage for the third, on welfare reform. It is expected to emphasize that states should be permitted to continue experimenting with different kinds of welfare, in an effort to see which ones are most effective in moving welfare recipients from dependence on government subsidy to jobs in the private sector and financial independence.

The administration recommendations on reform will be played out in the next Congress in a competitive environment, in front of Democrat-led committees in both houses. These recommendations will be competing with others from welfare-reform study committees and members of Congress.

Much difference exists among the proposals, both completed and to come. Yet there are several areas of commonality: a widely held view that any change must include some kind of required work or training for work, and that greater effort should be made to collect child-support funds from fathers.

The Bauer report, which in part deals with aspects of welfare reform, stresses the importance of individuals taking responsibility for their lives. But it notes as well that those who require government assistance should be given it. ``Our nation reached a consensus long ago,'' the report says, ``that we must help those less fortunate than ourselves. We now need to agree that such help, to be really compassionate, must not rob the needy of the motivations, aspirations, family loyalties, values, and character traits that ultimately are the only engine that drives families out of poverty and dependency to self-sufficiency.''

The Bauer report recommends that any changes in the welfare system ``should be built on the first principle: They `must stress the integrity and preservation of the family unit,''' a quote it attributes to President Kennedy.

Further, the study says that ``research clearly shows the kind of value system and character traits needed for upward mobility. Welfare programs must be developed and implemented in ways that aid the acquisition of those values.''

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