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Schwarzenegger Urges Cuts in State Welfare
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Schwarzenegger Urges Cuts in State Welfare

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Schwarzenegger Urges Cuts in State Welfare
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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today, in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed extending health insurance to the state's 6 and a half million uninsured. It's the second big plan Schwarzenegger has announced in as many days. Just yesterday, the governor said that he wants to cut off thousands of welfare families who are not meeting strict work requirements.

As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, both plans are controversial.

INA JAFFE: Schwarzenegger's insurance plan wouldn't be a big state-funded program. Everyone would be required to buy insurance. Those who couldn't afford it would be subsidized with funds contributed by doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and employers. The program would apply to every Californian, including those in the country illegally. Schwarzenegger acknowledged that would be controversial as he spoke by videoconference due to his broken leg.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): I don't think it is a question or a debate if they are to be covered, because I think that a federal court has made that decision - that no one can be turned away who shows up at an emergency room and needs care. And therefore, our question was not should we treat them or not treat them. The question really is how can we treat them in a most cost-effective way?

JAFFE: The Democratic leaders in the legislature previously introduced their own health care proposals. And the Republican governor has said he's convinced that they can come to an agreement on health care, just as they did last year on measures to lower prescription drug costs and to combat global warming.

On the other hand, Schwarzenegger's proposal to cut thousands of families from the welfare rolls - a proposal made just yesterday - may already be history.

State Senator DON PERATA (Democrat, California): There's no one in the Democratic caucus that will support this.

JAFFE: Says Don Perata, a Democrat and a leader of the state senate.

State Senator PERATA: It's a drop-dead issue for Democrats. We will never vote for a budget if that's in it.

JAFFE: But the Governor's finance director, Mike Genest, says that California's welfare program - known as CalWORKS - hasn't been as successful as others around the country when it comes to the vital task of getting welfare parents into jobs.

Mr. MIKE GENEST (California State Finance Director): For example, California has 25 percent of our caseload who are working. New York, for example, has 40 percent, and Massachusetts 60.

JAFFE: So the Schwarzenegger administration is proposing to eliminate what are commonly referred to in California as safety net grants. Those are reduced welfare payments that still cover children even if their parent hasn't found work by the time their 16-month time limit expires. Genest calls withdrawing the safety net grant a tough love approach that will give parents an incentive to work. The state would get something out of the deal as well.

Mr. GENEST: It's going to save us about $465 million in the coming year. But we also have to avoid federal sanctions. If we do not something to improve our work participation rates dramatically, it's going to cost us $149 million a year. And the state can't afford that sort of thing.

JAFFE: But Senate leader Don Perata says that when the CalWORKS program was crafted in the mid 1990s, that safety net grant for the children was considered essential.

State Senator PERATA: We never, ever want to punish the children because of the sins of their fathers or mothers. And that's what this does. It basically says that 40,000 kids will go at risk. And you know where they're going to end up -either in foster care or in the juvenile justice system.

JAFFE: Other critics question whether the administration's tough love approach will really help stabilize needy families. Jean Ross is the head of the California Budget Project, which analyzes the impact of state finances on middle and lower income people.

Ms. JEAN ROSS (Head of California Budget Project): I think it's ironic on the one hand to talk about providing health coverage to children, and at the same time taking away the ability of those children's families - in some cases, to pay the rent.

JAFFE: Schwarzenegger has another big event coming up tomorrow night. That's his annual State of the State address. Senate leader Don Perata says Democratic lawmakers will not forget the proposed welfare cuts as they listen to his speech.

State Senator PERATA: What he says tomorrow night in the State of the State will be seen with a much more jaundiced view than otherwise might have been the case.

JAFFE: And there is now a bit less luster on the bipartisan glow that Schwarzenegger clearly hoped would carry him through this year.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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