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Babbitt report urges floor for welfare aid

Reforming welfare and ending poverty among Americans is the joint responsibility of the federal and state governments and of the private sector. That's the core conclusion of a report recommending ways to reform the troubled welfare system and help Americans now in poverty to climb out of it.

The report, titled ``Ladders out of Poverty,'' is the result of a seven-month study of the welfare system by a task force called the ``Project on the Welfare of Families,'' co-chaired by Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Arthur Flemming, a former Health, Education and Welfare secretary.

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Like others published, the report recommends that some kind of work requirement for welfare recipients is appropriate ``under certain circumstances,'' and that efforts to get absent fathers to pay child support should be redoubled. These two points represent the central consensus around which both liberal and conservative welfare reformers have coalesced in recent months. These kinds of reforms are expected to have strong support in Congress.

But the report, expected to be one of the most liberal to emerge from the various study groups considering welfare reform, also recommends more controversial changes, certain to incur conservative opposition. Included are recommendations for a ``federal floor in the areas of health, nutrition, and welfare,'' beginning as a combination of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (the principal welfare program) and food stamp ``benefits equal [to] at least 65 percent of federal poverty standards in the fiscal year 1988,'' and gradually increasing up to the poverty threshold.

It also recommends that sufficient child-care and health coverage be provided to people trying to work their way off welfare, and that American society increase ``our commitment to provide prenatal care, adequate nutrition and health care for infants, and early childhood education.''

``America will never solve its welfare problems,'' says Governor Babbitt, a possible candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, ``without both the heroic efforts of responsible individuals and a helping hand from government. ... Self-sufficiency requires the poor to do the best they can, but their best will not be good enough unless we help them find the power to make it so.''

Babbitt says he drew three principal conclusions from the report:

That no American now working should be poor.

That ``if you are not working, and if you are not trying, then you have no business drawing subsidies for your sloth. But society must not permit your children to suffer for it.''

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``There is no such thing as an undeserving child. ... Every child must be provided with the means to an education, three square meals, and a doctor when he or she needs it.''

The report recommends that working poor be helped through a combination of tax relief, health-care assistance, and some form of a limited wage subsidy.

States, it says, should continue to experiment with a variety of approaches to providing work opportunities for welfare recipients, and the federal government ``should provide adequate funding to assist states in running these programs.''

Fundamentally, it says, ``we must increase our investment in public and private programs for the development of the basic skills of our youth, if the nation is to succeed in reducing long-term dependency.''

In this approach the report parallels the tack taken by the welfare report issued recently by the American Public Welfare Association, which stressed that Americans should look at a reformed welfare system as an investment, not an expenditure, and that more money should be invested in the education and training of welfare recipients and their children, so that welfare dependency would be reduced and the taxpayers would save a larger amount of money over the long haul.

``Our commitments,'' the Babbitt report says, ``will add to both federal and state expenditures. These outlays are investments in our future, but they must be fully funded so as not to add to our current fiscal stress.''

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