Family Planning

Killing welfare reform in court?


Nearly a dozen states are considering ways to limit welfare payments to women who have additional children. (See "Working on Welfare," April.) A lawsuit challenging New Jersey's 1992 Family Development Act could derail these and other welfare reform efforts.

New Jersey provides a $64 monthly subsidy for each child a welfare mother bears. Under the Family Development Act and a waiver from federal regulations, the state now freezes these subsidies when a woman on Aid to Families with Dependent Children has additional children.

Last December, the National Organization for Women's legal defense fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several Legal Services Corp. offices filed suit to make subsidies for additional welfare children a constitutional right. These organizations argue that limiting welfare benefits illegally interferes with a woman's right to decide how many children she will bear.

In March, the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm in Washington, D.C., filed suit to intervene on behalf of two welfare-reform advocacy groups, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Empowerment Network Foundation. Dirk Roggeveen, the institute's senior litigation attorney, argues that parents, not taxpayers, should bear the responsibility for the cost of having additional children.

Roggeveen predicts that if NOW succeeds, more than the New Jersey program will be imperiled. Virginia recently passed a welfare-reform law with a New Jersey-style "family cap." Maryland is considering a similar bill. And the Clinton administration favors workfare programs that cut off AFDC benefits for welfare mothers who are able to work. Since workfare jobs don't pay higher wages to people from larger families, says Roggeveen, the NOW lawsuit could derail any welfare reform that doesn't base the amount of its subsidies on the number of people in a welfare family.

"The clear intent of HHS waivers is to let each [state] program run as an experiment," Roggeveen says. If NOW prevails, he says, welfare advocates could tie up every waiver in court.