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WELFARE REFORM HAS NOT BEEN a high-profile issue in this year's Governor's race. Most state politicians consider welfare reform to be old news. The State Legislature negotiated a bi-partisan welfare reform law last year, and few lawmakers feel like revisiting that contentious and often emotional debate.
Gubernatorial candidate Ted Mondale is one of those politicians who says he's generally satisfied with the way the Legislature has followed President Clinton's call to "end welfare as we know it".
Mondale: I think we have to hold firm. We have to change welfare from something you live your whole life on to a temporary program where people can get their training and get their life back together.Mondale approves of the way the 1997 law puts a five-year time limit on welfare benefits, because he believes it gives recipients a concrete incentive to become self-sufficient again. But he's also glad Minnesota has done more than other states to smooth the transition back to work by offering medical care and children's day care. The reform's only real shortcoming, in Mondale's view, is job training. Right now the state will pay for one year of schooling for someone on welfare; Mondale thinks many welfare recipients need two years to prepare for a good job. He also says the state should spend $15 million a year training workers who are on the verge of welfare.
Mondale: If you can help place someone off welfare, and say they're working in the mailroom today, and you've got the resources there so that over time they can get the training, they can get on the career track, and have a job with full benefits and 401Ks and the kind of things you can raise a family on. There's no state that's done a good job on job training, and I think it's critical for welfare reform to work, and I think it's critical for welfare reform, and we can lead the nation in this if we do it right.The catch, Mondale says, is that the more Minnesota tries to improve its welfare-to-work system, the more attractive it may seem to welfare recipients in other states. He says Minnesota's relative generosity could be the system's downfall.
Mondale: If we're starting to get busloads and busloads and busloads of people from Arizona or Mississippi, I think the public reaction will be rather stiff and will bring the whole thing into question.The 1997 welfare reform law included a residency requirement, to keep Minnesota from becoming a so-called "welfare magnet." The requirement was supposed to withhold Minnesota's higher benefits from newly arrived migrants. But just two weeks ago, a Ramsey County court struck down the residency requirement as unconstitutional. Governor Carlson has pledged to appeal that ruling to a higher court. Ted Mondale says if he's governor next year, he'll keep up the pressure in the courts to reinstate the residency requirement.