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WELFARE-REFORM LAW IS LEAVING MANY BEHIND

Is it time to celebrate the end of welfare as we know it? Before we pop the cork on the champagne bottle, we had better take a hard look at what's happened. The significant decline in welfare enrollments is not surprising. As predicted, those with some job skills, education and work experience are leaving public assistance in large numbers, especially in areas of the nation enjoying job growth and low unemployment. They are to be congratulated. Those who were cheating the system apparently got the message, too.

Yet the story is quite different for those without skills, job prospects and support services such as child care. Welfare-reform legislation was designed to quickly move those most employable off public assistance in order to help balance the federal budget. To get even more black ink into the federal-budget ledger, Congress voted to sharply reduce funding for job training. It has been a public-relations dream. Even with spending cuts, welfare reform is working. Can it be true?

Although no definitive studies have surfaced yet, it's obvious that most chronically unemployed welfare recipients are being left behind. This is especially true for those who cannot get into job-training programs that require a high school diploma or equally demanding entrance requirements. Add dependent children, disability and the lack of transportation and child care as barriers, and one has a profile typical of those left behind. Let's work to make sure everyone can get off welfare before we begin the celebration.

KENNETH H. COWDERY President, Clarkson Center
Buffalo