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Governors Debate Reforming Welfare Reform

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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 1) -- Proposed changes to federal welfare reform were disputed largely along partisan lines as the nation's governors began their annual meeting.

Washington is transferring responsibility to the states for many welfare initiatives under a law passed last year, a shift many governors pushed for. But now a number of them are worried they will not have the money to cover their costs.


"When there's a shifting of responsibility to the states, the costs don't disappear," said Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors' Association.

Persuading Congress to change the welfare law just months after it was signed promises to be hard work for the governors.

Democrats Propose Changes

Democrats are united in wanting changes and more money to care for people who would be thrown off the rolls under the new law. They announced their intention to propose specific adjustments to the federal welfare program, notably to include funding for programs aiding certain groups of legal immigrants.


"We will have chaos in the state when we cut off benefits to people who are legally there," said Florida Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, whose state has a sizable immigrant population.

"It is totally unfair ... this is the mother of all unfunded mandates."

Republicans Don't Want To 'Re-open' Debate

But Republicans announced a resolution opposing the "re- opening" of the federal welfare reform law. They said the legal immigrant issue affects relatively few states, which should design programs accordingly, without federal intervention.

"I don't want to open it up and I don't want to cause problems so Congress doesn't give us more responsibility on other (issues)," said Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, whose state has been a leader in welfare reform efforts.


Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad admitted the GOP group "endorses some technical corrections" to be determined by the states, primarily in the area of aid to legal immigrants and work-to- welfare programs. But he said such fine-tuning should be left to states, rather than being mandated by federal law.

Clinton, Lott Sure To Get Earful

The governors are to meet Monday with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who has said he opposes significant new funding for welfare.

President Clinton, who is set to present his budget plan this week and who wants about $13 billion over six years for aid to immigrants, also will meet with governors Monday.

Governors are united against Clinton's plan to cap spending on individual Medicaid recipients. Clinton aims to control spending on the health care program for the poor, but governors worry it will just shift those costs to their books.

They want more control over the operation and costs of Medicaid, which gets almost half its money from the states.

The four-day governors' meeting began Saturday.

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