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Ex-Official: Focus News on People

October 18, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ While some politicians have been quick to label welfare reform a gigantic success, a former Clinton administration official says it’s too early to say everything’s working.

``It’s what happens to people that counts. ... We need stories about real people and what they’re experiencing under this,″ said Peter Edelman, who has called the 1996 law ``the worst thing Bill Clinton has done.″

Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, was assistant secretary for planning and evaluation of the Health and Human Services Department. He resigned in protest after President Clinton signed the reform law.

Robert Rector, a senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation, disputed Edelman’s conclusion that government’s goal should be to lift families out of poverty. Rather, its goal should be to help them become self-sufficient, he said during a panel discussion Friday before the Associated Press Managing Editors association’s national conference.

Citing reforms in Wisconsin and several other states, he said, ``We know how now to reduce both out-of-wedlock births and dependency. ... The bad news is that most states have very lukewarm reforms in place that really are not going to have much enduring effect.″

The Wisconsin law requires welfare recipients to obtain a private sector job quickly or to perform community service if a private sector job is not available.

Later, a panel of journalists agreed that welfare confidentiality rules impede their ability to track what happens to individual welfare recipients under the reform. Participants were Joel Dresang of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Allen Breed, the Associated Press correspondent in Pikeville, Ky.

APME President David Hawpe, editor and vice president of The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., agreed. ``I would argue that one of the obligations we have is to attempt to find ways to pry open the files that would help us track in some way what happens to these people.″

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