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New Jersey Officials Say Birth Rate Drop Not Linked to Welfare Benefits Cap

By Barbara Vobejda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12 1997; Page A22

New Jersey officials announced yesterday that a large decline in the birth rate among the state's welfare families could not be attributed to its "family cap" policy, which denies additional benefits to mothers who have more children while they are on the rolls.

The state Department of Human Services reported that a $1 million study by Rutgers University found birth rates declined at virtually identical rates for welfare mothers who were covered by the policy and for a "control" group of welfare mothers who were not. Those in the control group received an additional $64 a month if they had another child, while the capped women got nothing extra. The typical benefit for a family of three is $424 a month.

The question of whether the state's family cap had driven down welfare birth rates has been the source of enormous controversy since the policy was implemented in 1993, but only incomplete studies were available to answer it. To date, 21 states have adopted similar caps as part of their welfare reform packages. As a result, state officials across the country have been waiting for evidence of the effect of New Jersey's benefits policy, the first in the nation to be implemented statewide.

The Rutgers study found that among the women studied, birth rates dropped from 11 percent before the policy was put in place to 6 percent by the second year. Some state officials and conservatives claim that the policy has driven down welfare births.

But, in a statement released by the state yesterday, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) said the intent of the family cap was not to reduce births or save money.

"The goal of this provision was to send a message of personal responsibility to families on welfare," she said. "And that message is that mothers and fathers, not taxpayers, need to take responsibility for caring for children they bring into this world."

William Waldman, New Jersey's commissioner of human services, has argued that welfare mothers, whether or not they were covered by the family cap, heard about the policy and were susceptible to its message. That, he said, made it difficult to conduct a scientific study that isolates the effect of the policy on one group.

According to a summary prepared by the state, the study also found that abortion rates for women covered by the policy had dropped from 11 percent before it was implemented to 9.5 percent at the end of the first year after it went into effect.

Women covered by the family cap were more likely to use family planning services, the study found. While 17 percent of those women were using such services, just 13 percent of women not covered by the policy were doing so.

When women on welfare were asked about the family cap, 67 percent of those surveyed said they felt it was fair and 86 percent said it promoted responsibility. About half said they felt the policy hurt children and 37 percent said it interfered with a woman's right to have a baby.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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