When Richard Nixon asked Congress to overhaul the welfare system in 1969, he presented his plan in conservative terms to minimize potential opposition. He was proposing "the transformation of welfare into 'workfare,'" Nixon said.
Now Jimmy Carter had done the same thing, for similar reasons. His "Better Jobs and Income Program" would provide poor people with cash and work, but it is the work that Carter has emphasized.
Yet the jobs part of Carter's welfare plan, according to many welfare experts, is its weakest link.
Carter would divide welfare households into two broad categories - those in which some member could be expected to work, and those without such a member.
To make sure work is available for those in the first category, his plan also involves creation of 1.4 million public-sector jobs.
People in these jobs would receive the minimum wage, plus limited welfare supplements.
One of the basic areas of objection to this jobs part of the welfare plan has to do with its financing.
The administration's welfare experts estimate that the jobs - 300,000 of which would be part-time - would cost about $8.8 billion a year in current dollars.
Most of this money - about $5.5 billion - would be obtained by phasing out an existing public-sector jobs program. The existing program was passed by Congress as a temporary anti-recession device, to last only while unemployment stayed high.
Thus Carter is proposing to "pay for" his welfare partly by making a temporary program permanent, hardly a step likely to please the efiscal conservatives he has courted by promising to hold down his plan's cost.
Meanwhile, his financing plan has also met with opposition - for nearly opposite reasons - from mayors and municipal union leaders. They complain that Carter is "killing off" the anti-recession jobs program, which they say continues to be needed in big cities.
The anti-recession jobs program was authorized under on section of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).
A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of MAyors says the new welfare jobs should be on top of CETA, not in place of it.
Mayors and municipal union leaders acknowledged that these CETA jobs were originally intended to be phased out as the economy recovered. But they argue that the cities have not shared fully in the recovery, and that in many cities, unemployment remains quite high. Meanwhile, one member of this group says, these cities have become "critically dependent" on CETA money for regular public services.
"Cutting off CETA money would mean a massive disruption of services," maintains Jerry Wurf, president of the American Federaion of State, County and Municipal Employees. He says some cities depend on CETA to pay for 20 per cent of their municipal work forces.
But Jodie T. Allen, a welfare adviser to the Department of Labor, says of the city spokesmen, "They're not talking about counter-cyclical but a chromic problem." They should be asking for permanent general revenue sharing, she said "not stimulus money, which was always meant to expire."
The second major objection to the jobs part of the welfare plan has to do with the minimum wage.The AFL-CIO is expected to attack this part of the work program when its executive board meets later this month arguing that welfare jobs at minimum wage create a pool of "second-class citizens," who can be hired at cheaper wages.
Welfare rights organizations and municipal union leaders say the minimum wage jobs will undercut wages in both public and private jobs. For example, the anti-recession CETA jobs are filled by workers making an average of $7,800 annually plus fringe benefits. AFL-CIO members often make more than that. While Department of Labor officials say the welfare program will create new jobs or expand existing services, union experts see an unavoidable overlap.
"Take a look at the job categoris they've come up with," said one AFSCME official. "We have people doing jobs in nine of those categories - public safety, building and repairing recreation facilities, creating facilities for the handicapped, environmental monitoring, child care, waste treatment and recycling, improving school facilities providing para-professionals in the schools, you name it, How're they going to work side by side at minimum wage?"
And John J. Gunther, director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in a letter to all mayors, raised the question: "How could cities fill service slot at reduced wage rates without severe labor problems?"
Department of Labor officials insist that the welfare slots are not to subsidize municipal jobs, but to give an income floor for the neediest families.
"Our target is structural unemployment and a lot of a training, not paying higher wages to municipal workers," said one official. "If we went to prevailing wage we would be destroying the program - if the wage goes up to 10 per cent the demand [for jobs] increases by 20 per cent.
"Already we estimate a demand for 1.4 million jobs. That's a lot of money. If you raise that, not only is it a draw on the economy, we won't be reaching those who most need the jobs."
Officials point out that the proposed welfare suppliment will take household well past the minimum wage from $5,512 to almost $7,000.
"For every argument you can make on one side, there is an argument on the other," said one administration official. "Say a private employer hires a guy at $4 an hour. Under our plan he would get the low income supplement. It might not pay him to work overtime, for example, since 50 per cent of his work benefits will be taken away . You could argue that would force the private employer to pay more or hire more workers."
The third major question about the jobs proposal has to do with overall workability. For five weeks, a person expected to work must hunt for a private jon through the Department of Labor U.S. Employment Service. During that period, the person can only draw the lower benefits from the second or work-expected tier. Critics claim that this penalizes the job-seeker and puts the incentive on the wrong person. Said one major representive, "There is no incentive for the private sector to provide those jobs." Critics point out private sector employees have fled the inner city where most welfare and low-income people are clustered. Labor Department officials counter that the pressure is on them to help find that job - or else put them in an expensive government subsidized public job.
County and state bureaucrats have already raised jurisdictional questions over who would control the public jobs. Since these jobs expire after 12 months, at which time there must again be a search for a private jon, massive paperwork is also contemplated. What constituts a part-time job for a working mother is another consideration.
One congressional analyst said, "It isn't just the minimum wage hassle that makes the jobs part the biggest problem of the whole proposal. The impact on the economy is unknown. Administratively, it is going to be complex - maybe just as complex as the present system. Everyone wants people on welfare to work, but it's not so easy when the government gets into it."