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HOUGHTON'S HELP NOT ENOUGH MORE MONEY WON'T SALVAGE GOP WELFARE PLAN

EVERYONE CAN be grateful to Rep. Amory Houghton Jr., R-Corning, for squeezing another $1.1 billion in welfare aid for New York State out of the sweeping welfare changes being debated this week in Congress.

But that extra money still doesn't satisfactorily repair a deficient Republican program that's almost certain to win House approval but ought to go down to defeat.

Nor is the bill's principal drawback money. Existing national welfare programs are not perfect. They could be made more efficient, saving money. And there continues to be a gaping national budget deficit that Congress ought to dramatically reduce.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House GOP changes would cut $69 billion, or 6 percent, from $1.1 trillion in spending projected now on welfare over the next five years.

But the most deep-rooted problems in the GOP program go to its basic organization, which dismantles sensible national standards. The defects would likely erode the intended benefits of welfare assistance for Americans, including many children, who are disadvantaged by poverty and other limitations.

Wrongly, the Republican House plan would wipe out fundamental standards, leaving what should be minimum national requirements up to the various states. So Mississippi could write one set of standards, California another and New York a third.

Accordingly, there would be no uniform nutritional requirements in food programs like school lunches or other special nutritional efforts for pregnant women, children and babies. At the very least, there ought to be minimum national nutritional requirements applicable across the country. All states should be required to meet them and permitted to enhance them if they considered that desirable.

Not to insist on any recognized nutritional standards at all in dispensing billions of dollars intended to feed the hungry is perilously short-sighted.

Similarly, Republicans would erase national standards entitling those who meet the eligibility requirements to welfare assistance, again leaving qualifications for assistance up to the states. As far as Washington would be concerned, no one, no matter how impoverished, would be entitled to welfare.

There is room for honest disagreement over what the uniform national eligibility standards ought to be. Let that issue be debated. Once the entitlement standards are settled, though, any individual or family meeting those standards, whether in Houston or Tampa or Buffalo, ought to be entitled to welfare assistance.

These are by no means the only weaknesses in the Republican House proposal, a centerpiece of the "Contract With America," but they are among the most fundamental. If they are approved, as expected, the Senate must refuse to go along.

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