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GOP Abandons Plans To Include Elderly Americans in Welfare Reform

February 10, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a concession to one of Washington’s most powerful lobbies, Republicans have quietly shelved plans to disband nutrition programs for the elderly and end the guarantee to cash welfare for the poorest seniors.

According to House Republicans, senior citizens will not be targeted in the GOP’s legislation to reform the nation’s welfare system, as lawmakers first proposed.

``Senior citizens can rest and relax and not get excited. We haven’t included them in our discussions or in any legislation at this point,″ said Rep. William F. Goodling, chairman of the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, which is writing a piece of the welfare reform bill.

Democrats, meanwhile, stepped up their attacks on the Republican legislation, saying its work requirements for single mothers on welfare were far too weak and its hard-line positions would lead to starving babies and homeless families.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said that, for the Republicans, ``welfare reform is just a way of passing the buck, kicking people off the welfare rolls, and leaving innocent children out in the street.″

But Democrats, in the minority for the first time in 40 years, have not united behind a counterproposal as the House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources begins writing its bill next week.

The GOP legislation would deny cash benefits to single mothers under the age of 18, kick families off welfare after five years, and turn nearly 50 social programs over to the states in three block grants, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said the GOP plan, which requires just 2 percent of the nearly 5 million adults on AFDC to be enrolled in a work program in 1996, ``offers only a token nod towards work.″

In the face of lobbying from advocates for the elderly, however, the GOP has retreated from its plans to disband nutrition programs that provide hot meals to frail, aged Americans in their homes and at senior centers.

Under the GOP’s original bill, spending on those programs would have been combined with food stamps, school lunches, and other nutrition assistance into a lump sum and returned to the states in a block grant.

The details of running these programs would be left to the states and overall spending would be cut.

The GOP is also dropping its original call for ending the guarantee to cash benefits for low-income seniors and the disabled who receive Supplemental Security Income, which provides a maximum monthly check of $458.

As an entitlement, SSI is now available to anyone who meets the eligibility requirements and has grown to reflect increases in need.

Goodling, R-Pa., said Congress would address senior nutrition programs when it takes up the Older Americans Act later this year.

The elderly nutrition programs provided nearly 230 million hot meals to more than 3 million people in 1993, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and there are waiting lists of frail seniors who want a meal delivered to their door.

Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the decision to drop the senior programs from welfare reform ``sends a strong message that frail, vulnerable seniors are not going to get clobbered through arbitrary block grants.″

Marty Corry, director of federal affairs for the American Association of Retired Persons, said the needs of senior citizens could have been overlooked in a large nutrition block grant with limited spending.

``For many of these folks, this is the only social contact they have,″ Corry said. ``If you take this away, they remain prisoners in their homes, they don’t come out.″

Corry said those who receive home-delivered meals are often single, frail, elderly women in their 80s.

``They are afraid to go out. Unless someone brings a meal to them, they don’t get a hot meal,″ he said.

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