Tuesday, June 29, 1999

New welfare rules
could be effective

Bullet The issue: The state proposes new welfare rules to prod beneficiaries to seek employment.
Bullet Our view: The state must help people look for jobs or obtain training.

As expected, dozens of social service advocates and welfare recipients testified against proposed new state welfare rules that could affect as many as 6,000 families. The proposals would deny welfare benefits to recipients who failed to meet work requirements.

There is already a work requirement on the books, but the rule now denies benefits only to the person who is in noncompliance. The new rules would allow the Department of Human Services to withdraw benefits from other members of the family as well. However, sanctioned families would still be eligible for food stamps and medical assistance.

The point, explains Human Services Director Susan Chandler, is that many adults whose eligibility has expired simply cash the welfare checks of their children. Consequently the sanction isn't effective in inducing people to seek employment.

Federal law now limits welfare benefits to five years over a lifetime and requires able-bodied adults to work after two years of welfare. Chandler says the state wants to get people off welfare as soon as possible so they have something to fall back on if they need welfare in the future. This is a sensible policy.

Persons on welfare for two years who are in the state's First-to-Work program would have to be employed at least 32 hours a month, of which 12 hours could be as a student. Those on the waiting list to get into the program would need to meet a "work activity" requirement of at least four hours a month, which could be fulfilled by paid or volunteer work, schooling or proof of job search.

Chandler maintains that it wouldn't be difficult to meet the requirements. But witnesses testifying at a public hearing said they feared the worst, with people left homeless after hunting in vain for jobs that are scarce in a weak economy.

Sanctions could begin as soon as Sept. 1. Since April, notices have been sent out warning recipients of the proposed changes, but there is concern that some have ignored the warnings. There is also concern that immigrants won't understand what they have to do.

Making life harder for people who already have serious problems is never pleasant. But it seems clear that the current option for adults of relying on their children's benefits after their own have been canceled reduces the incentive to seek employment. Elimination of that option could make the difference in spurring people to look for jobs.

To make the new rules work, the state must make every effort to assist welfare recipients to find work or to obtain training. Weaning people from welfare is important, but it must be done in a manner that is sensitive to their problems.

Disarming N. Ireland

Bullet The issue: Catholics and Protestants are trying to negotiate final terms of a peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
Bullet Our view: Militant factions should not be allowed to stand in the way of such an agreement.

AS the season of parades and violence nears in Northern Ireland, obstacles to a final peace between Protestants and Catholics remain. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Martin McGuinness, chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, appear willing to reach a compromise but it has so far eluded them. Any agreement they reach should include a unified effort to combat violence by extremist elements.

The threat by British leader Tony Blair to impose a Wednesday deadline did not seem to move Trimble and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, who continued to accuse each other of inflexibility throughout yesterday's negotiations.

Last year's Good Friday accord between the Protestants of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Catholics of Sinn Fein lacked a final agreement on the terms of disarmament. Such an agreement would allow formation of a Catholic-Protestant government as a step toward eventual independence or union with Ireland.

Trimble is insisting that the IRA agree to a timetable to disarming by May 2000. However, he appears to have dropped the demand that actual disarmament begin before Sinn Fein will be allowed to take ministerial posts in the Assembly. That is a significant compromise.

McGuinness sounded conciliatory but lacking in authority. He said on Irish national radio that he would continue to try to use "whatever influence I have" to persuade the IRA to disarm by May 2000, the deadline set in the Good Friday agreement.

However, the IRA has stuck to its position that it has no plans to disarm. Without disarming, no agreement seems possible.

Marches by the Protestant Orange Order have resulted in violent confrontations with Catholic militants for the past three years. Tensions were heightened by a British government-appointed commission's decision not to allow Northern Ireland's major Protestant fraternal group to march through a Catholic section of the Portadown this weekend.

Efforts toward a final agreement, including President Clinton's promised intervention, will be fruitless unless Sinn Fein can be relied upon as the negotiating representative of the IRA.

Terrorist groups responsible for riots and bombings that have been denounced by the IRA in recent years should not be allowed to block the road to peace. Neither should the IRA.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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