The monthly welfare grant for a family of three would drop to $521 -- the average of five bordering states -- under Gorski administration proposals to the state.
This step would save $11.28 million to help bridge an estimated $55 million loss for Erie County that U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., predicted would occur under recent federal reforms, the county executive announced Monday.
The basic grant for a family of three would drop from $577 a month to $521. Food stamps, Medicaid and possibly a heating allowance would be added, as they are now.
"We are at a moment in time when we can change welfare," Gorski said. "We can change it forevermore."
Gorski wants the state to consider Erie County's proposals along with the report of a special task force when Gov. Pataki convenes a special session of the State Legislature, probably shortly after the election, to pass new welfare laws.
The state will try to make the most of the reduced federal dollars and the loss of the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program.
Gorski said he was not trying to emulate President Clinton or co-opt Republican ideas in his downsizing effort locally.
"These recommendations are based on what Erie County has asked for a number of years," he said.
But Republican county legislators said that they were first with such proposals and that they are happy that Gorski is joining them.
Legislator Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-East Amherst, who several times co-sponsored programs to tighten welfare regulations, said he welcomes Gorski's initiative to lower the welfare grant.
"Anytime we can get the county executive to join us, I'm terribly pleased," Ranzenhofer said.
Newcomers from states with benefits lower than $521 a month would stay at the level of their former state for 12 months after registering their move to New York.
Social Services officials could not immediately estimate how many new residents might seek welfare, although it is known that some social service agencies regularly bring in small numbers of drug and alcohol abusers for rehabilitation.
Gorski also called for ending benefits to drug abusers and for denying the present $104-a-month increase to women on welfare who have additional babies. Medicaid would cover additional children, however.
The Rev. G. Stanford Bratton, executive director of the Council of Churches, said the goal of welfare should be to end poverty, not simply to balance the budget.
"I think this proposal will be extremely hard on children," he said.
Gorski said welfare will again become a stopgap measure to help people get back on their feet and to end dependence of generation after generation.
"Government cannot be the architect of your destiny," he said.
The Gorski plan proposes school, work or job training for the able-bodied, but a governmental support system would continue to provide for the mentally ill, the mentally retarded or addicts in programs to help them get well, Gorski aides said.
Mr. Bratton said the government in Washington and at the local level should indicate where the work and work alternatives are.
"There have been a lot of people who want to say the enemy of everything is welfare," Mr. Bratton said. "We need a humane way to develop alternatives, not slashing."
Home visits -- part of the relief plan from the 1930s to early 1960s -- would resume for recipients who mismanage their grants.
The county executive also urged pressing to make illegal immigrants -- barred from welfare under the federal plan -- legal as quickly as possible.
"We don't want to be dispassionate and cruel," he said.
Finally, Gorski said, the state should share any funding gains with the counties and should absorb the costs of any programs that are not required by the federal government but that the state wants to continue. Gorski said Erie County is in the forefront in managed care, finger-imaging to prevent fraud and fraud detection in general.
Legislature Minority Leader Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora, contended that Gorski is embracing "a more Republican way of thinking when it comes to welfare reform."
Ranzenhofer said, "Many of the ideas that the county executive has put forth are ideas that the Republicans in the Legislature have been trying to put forward (for years). . . . The proposition to reduce the grant has been opposed by liberal Democrats. I'm surprised that the county executive would put forth such an idea. Most of the liberals who supported Mr. Gorski for re-election will be astounded at these proposals."