House GOP aims to kill welfare 'entitlements'

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Republican team taking over the House of Representatives in January will propose a welfare bill that eliminates a decades-old guiding principle of poverty and food programs: that anyone who qualifies for these benefits automatically gets them.

Under the proposal drafted by House Republicans for submission in January, Congress would set an overall annual limit on welfare spending and replace food stamps and child-nutrition programs with a lump sum payment to each state.


The Republicans would consolidate 10 nutrition programs into a "food assistance block grant," cut the available money by 5 percent and then set a limit on spending.

The limit would be adjusted for increases in population and food prices in the prior year. The programs to be consolidated in this way include food stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and the school lunch and breakfast programs.


House Republicans said yesterday that the bill would also require state welfare officials to provide the federal government with information to help identify illegal immigrants.

The proposal, like a ballot measure approved this month by California voters, would bar illegal aliens from receiving most forms of government assistance.

The proposal would also deny certain benefits to some legal immigrants and residents who were not citizens. The bill, the Personal Responsibility Act, lists 60 programs for which illegal aliens and many legal aliens would be ineligible.

Under current law, aliens are eligible for some benefits and ineligible for others depending on a complex set of criteria that are often inconsistent.

Each of these proposals is big enough to ensure long, impassioned debate next year. One is particularly striking: people now eligible for welfare, food stamps and free school lunches would no longer have a legally enforceable right to such assistance, known in legislative parlance as an "entitlement."

Instead, specific sums would be appropriated each year for food assistance and welfare. If the money ran out before the end of the year, benefits could be scaled back, people could be removed from the rolls or new applicants could be turned away, depending on state decisions.

House Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, the speaker-in-waiting, have said they will bring the bill to the House floor within the first 100 days of the next Congress, as promised in their 10-point "Contract with America."

A copy of the bill was obtained by the New York Times from state officials who have been following the issue and meeting with House Republicans.


As such, it will be a focus of debate in the House next year and appears to have a better chance of passage than any other welfare bill. But to become law, it would have to pass the Senate, where some senior Republicans have supported the expansion of food programs. It would also be subject to approval by President Clinton.

While Mr. Clinton has called for overhauling the welfare system, he has focused on job training and limits on the duration of welfare payments, not on food programs.

The food stamp program costs $25 billion a year and helps feed 27 million people. The program for women, infants and children, known as WIC, serves 6.2 million people at a cost of $3.1 billion a year. The school lunch program costs $4.5 billion a year and feeds 25 million children a day.

The Republican bill would repeal the Food Stamp Act of 1977, the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, the National School Lunch Act of 1946, the Emergency Food Assistance Act of 1983 and several other federal laws intended to prevent hunger.

It would replace the money allocated under those laws with the new block grant, which states would use for the general purpose food assistance but without having to follow the detailed nutrition standards set by existing laws and regulations.

Current rules say, for example, that school lunches must supply at least one-third of the recommended dietary allowance for various nutrients. In addition, under the proposal, states could provide people with cash instead of food stamps.


Republicans said their proposal would save money and force Congress to face up to the cost of welfare and food assistance, rather than allowing these programs to continue on autopilot.

But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat who has been chairman of the Agriculture Committee for the last eight years, said the Republican proposal would "lead to a dramatic increase in hunger and will leave states stranded to deal with the fallout on their own."

He said he had worked closely with Republican senators like Bob Dole of Kansas and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana to strengthen food programs.

Mr. Lugar is expected to be chairman of the Agriculture Committee next year.

Mr. Dole, who is in line to be the new majority leader, said in 1982 that "the federal government should retain primary responsibility for child nutrition programs," and he noted that President Richard M. Nixon expressed the same view in 1969.