RALL: Clinton Creates the Next Welfare Crisis

Bill Clinton has boldly gone where no Republican has ever gone before.Following the labor-bashing infamy of his North American Free Trade Agreement and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which export our last decent-salaried jobs to Indonesia, last week's announcement that the former Democratic president intends to sign a Republican-sponsored welfare reform bill surprised few political junkies. Once again, Clinton has succeeded where presidents from Nixon to Bush failed. To the voters who counted on him to reverse the nihilistic corporatism of the Reagan-Bush years, he's become the ultimate sellout -- all just to chase after right-wing types who won't vote for him anyway.But the most painfully pathetic aspect of "The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act," the euphemistic title of this carpet-bombing approach to welfare, is that it will, without fail, plunge hundreds of thousands of people from the edge of poverty into abject deprivation and even starvation. Moreover, it's a logistic dog. Ideology aside, there is simply no way that the plan can work as advertised, namely, that eliminating benefits will force aid recipients to find jobs.First of all, no one will be allowed to collect Aid to Families with Dependent Children or food stamps for more than five years. Evidently our perceptive legislators in Washington haven't noticed that there aren't any jobs -- none that can support a child, anyway -- even though the economy is supposedly booming. The unemployment rate, now around six percent, will soar after 2002 when all those welfare moms hit the streets. And what happens when the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism hits the latter half of that equation? Here's what: over 13 million families will starve. But who knows -- maybe President Gore will form a commission to study the problem.Second, able-bodied adults will have to find work within two years. If they can't find a private-sector job, they're supposed to apply for community-service gigs -- if the states and cities are willing and able to pay for them. The catch is, the bill also trashes benefits for legal immigrants. States like California and New York, which consider green-card holders the same as citizens for the purpose of qualifying for public assistance, will have to make up the shortfall. California alone will pay out $20 billion over the next six years -- so how the hell will the state find funding for those make-work jobs?Third, but by no means last, the bill kicks teen mothers off welfare unless they live at home and are in school. No one expects the president to actually talk to poor people, but if Clinton were to spend his next Renaissance Weekend watching Ricki Lake instead of kissing up to Bill Gates he would learn that, as a rule, teen moms end up ostracized from their families. It's all a 16-year-old can do to stay home and do the mom thing, much less hold down a job or attend class. In case Clinton hasn't noticed, we don't have child care benefits in this country.Americans need to accept that there's no point demanding that everyone work when there simply aren't enough jobs for everyone. Technology is rendering workers redundant every day. Forcing those victims of progress to perform unnecessary work is sadistic and inane. An intelligent welfare system would extract funding from the multinational corporations whose bottom lines have benefited from downsizing, and provide generous support to those who need it until such point in the future as employment begins to grow.Certainly the old system left much to be desired. When I was growing up, I watched my mom clip coupons and scrimp together grocery money. Then I got a job bagging groceries, where I encountered well-fattened welfare moms paying for overflowing grocery carts of prime rib and whole hams with food stamps. At $2.90 an hour, resentment comes with the territory.Many teen parents, knowing that the government would support them, purposefully got pregnant in a grim effort to give their lives meaning through reproduction. The problem is, rather than create a new social welfare system or try to address the brutal despair that exists in our inner cities, the idiots who run our country simply dismantled the old system. Clinton even claims that the more egregious provisions, like targeting legal immigrants (so what's the point of even becoming legal?) could eventually be repealed. Clinton's a liar. He knows full well that this bill redefines America's relationship with its poor for the foreseeable future. Nothing is going to change anytime soon.Ten years from now, it'll be bad enough to dodge muggers and tip-toe over scores of emaciated children on the way to the ATM. But far worse than guilt pangs will be the nauseating sight of our public officials as they feign surprise and confusion at our new status as a Third World country. "How did this happen?" they'll ask quizzically. And worst of all, no one will even think of repealing this political atrocity.

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