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Clinton Signs Welfare Reform Bill, Angers Liberals - Aug. 22, 1996

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New York Prepares To Battle Over Welfare

By Jonathan Karl/CNN


NEW YORK (Nov. 25) -- The welfare battle didn't end when President Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform bill this summer. It simply moved to the states. And in the scramble to respond to the new federal law, nowhere does the welfare debate promise to be more intense than in New York.

New York Gov. George Pataki has proposed the most sweeping changes in the 60-year history of New York's welfare system. The implications are far-reaching; the welfare system here covers 1.4 million people, at a cost of nearly $4 billion a year.

"There are tremendous numbers of people trapped in welfare who have intelligence, who have the physical ability, who have every attribute necessary to become successful in their own lives, but right now they take a look at it and say welfare looks better than a $9 or a $10 [an hour] job," Pataki said. "We've got to change that dynamic." To do that, Pataki plans to scale back welfare benefits and make them temporary.


The highlights of the Pataki plan include:

  • Eliminating cash payments to families after five years on welfare.
  • Replacing cash payments to able-bodied, childless adults with vouchers for food, clothing and shelter.
  • Allowing welfare recipients to earn more money without losing benefits.

The welfare plan will dominate the next session of the state legislature, which starts in January. Meanwhile, the New York City Council is already weighing in with hearings featuring welfare recipients.

Pataki says he is prepared for a long, tough welfare battle with the Democratically-controlled State Assembly. "This is going to be a very difficult political test of the legislature," he predicts.

In neighboring New Jersey, fellow Republican Gov. Christie Whitman is pushing a similar welfare proposal, but Whitman will almost certainly have an easier time getting her plan approved. Her party controls both houses of the New Jersey state legislature, and she enjoys a higher approval rating than Pataki.


In New York, advocates for the poor have made the defeat of the Pataki plan their top priority.

Liz Krueger of the Community Food Resource Center said, "I don't think the people of New York will stand for that. I know the people of New York do not want to see a city, county's, rural poor, in total desperation, total destitution, with nowhere to turn."

Both sides agree the Pataki plan would, to borrow President Clinton's words, end welfare as we know it. What they don't agree on is whether it would end dependency or devastate poor families.

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