Herger on welfare

Butte County’s congressman, Republican Wally Herger, chairs the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, a key group considering reauthorization—including refunding—of the current federal welfare program in 2002. The following is an edited version of a phone conversation with him.

What’s your take on the upcoming reauthorization?

We’ve had hearings this year, five hearings so far just on welfare reform. So we’ve been listening and talking to people.

But the good news: We’re going to be reauthorizing some legislation that has been very, very successful. As a matter of fact, since ‘96, when welfare reform was enacted, we see that work is up, caseloads have been cut more than in half, child poverty is down significantly—which, ironically, is just the opposite of what many opponents at the time felt would happen.

So, it’s really a pleasure to be working with a program that basically everyone is applauding right now—there’s that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” What we will be doing is fine-tuning it, though.

What about the problem some people are having with time limits?

I might mention that the states do have a 20 percent [allowance] that can be exempted [from time limits]—for certain individuals who for whatever reason aren’t able to get off welfare. We’ve allowed for that in the original legislation. Certainly, there is still much that needs to be done.

There are many parents that have limited skills and work experience, and we will be looking at promoting work training, insuring these individuals will have the opportunity to move up the economic ladder.

We will make sure we have a safety net with welfare. Everyone in need will be assisted. Still, we think that the reason so many people are working is because they do realize that there is a limit of time. Before, that incentive to go out and work was not there.

Will the war on terrorism mean less funding?

Well, there’s universal support to continue TANF funding at least at the level it’s at now. One of the pluses is that, as we have reduced the caseload, we’ve doubled the amount of money available—$8,000 a year—for people who are still on the program. Having said that, there’s a great deal of dollars available to assist individuals in education. Certainly, an education is key to the American Dream.

How are you going to promote family values?

Well, one of the four goals of welfare reform was to encourage families. Statistically, single-parent families have much more poverty. We will be looking at ways to encourage families, encourage marriage. But this is obviously something we can’t mandate.

We feel that marriage and a stable home is the best situation to raise children in. We may promote this through pre-marriage counseling, some courses or something in high schools. And also what more we can do to insure that teen births decrease more. Were looking at what might be the most effective.

There’s a lot we have to look at. But if we look back at the ‘96 legislation, work and caseload areas have been successful, but promoting families has not been successful, so certainly that is an area will be looking at.