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Judge Dismisses Challenge to N.J. Welfare Reform Law

May 5, 1995

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Saying welfare mothers need to face the ``reality known to so many working families,″ a judge has upheld a state law denying increased payments to women who have more children while on welfare.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nicholas H. Politan dismissed a challenge to the law that maintained it punishes children for their parents’ actions and was improperly approved by the federal government.

The law also will lead to an increase in abortions, opponents say.

Politan said that no child is excluded from benefits, and that the law instead caps payments that can be shared by all children in a family. He said additional children born to welfare mothers are eligible for food stamps and Medicaid.

Congress and several states are considering laws similar to New Jersey’s. A bill passed by the House would prohibit federal money from being used for additional benefits for children born to families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The Senate has not debated the proposal.

The decision has ``profound implications″ on the national welfare reform debate, said William H. Mellor III, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based public interest law firm.

``It’s absolutely vital that states be engaged in experiments ... to break the pathology of the welfare system,″ said Mellor, whose group argued in favor of the law.

The law went into effect in August 1993. It prohibits any woman who has received AFDC for more than 10 months from getting an additional monthly stipend if she has another baby.

Before the law took effect, New Jersey paid benefits up to $322 a month for a mother and child, $424 for a woman with two children and $488 for a woman with three children.

``This experiment is not working to break the cycle of poverty, it only works to put an even wider gap between the haves and the have-nots,″ said Myra Terry, president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Lawrence S. Lustberg said the law allows families to be treated differently depending on when a child was born.

``You could have families living next door to each other of identical size that get very different benefits,″ he said. ``We continue to believe that this statute hurts innocent babies.″

The law was challenged by the non-profit Legal Services of New Jersey Inc., the NOW Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and the state ACLU chapter. They promised to appeal.

The judge’s 56-page decision said the law does not violate the mother’s reproductive rights, ``but simply requires her to find a way to pay for her progeny’s care.″

``This is not discrimination; rather, this is the reality known to so many working families who provide for their children without any expectations of outside assistance,″ said Politan, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1987.

The law was approved by the Bush administration and is supported by the Clinton administration. Since it went into effect, New Jersey welfare mothers have given birth to 18,064 babies, 7,893 of whom didn’t increase welfare payments for their mothers.

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