Economic Development: Southern Representatives Oppose Welfare Reform

By Steve Suitts

Vol. 2, No. 4, 1980, pp. 24

Proposing to increase present payments to the Southern poor, major welfare reform was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 7th with strong opposition from a solid, Southern Congressional delegation.

By a deceptively comfortable margin of 222 to 184, the House approved the Carter administration's proposal to seek greater uniformity among state welfare programs and to reduce costs. The heart of the legislation proposed a guaranteed payment equal to at least 65 percent of the poverty level approximately $4,700 of welfare payments to a family of four today.

States would also be required to offer assistance to eligible families with two parents when the principal wage earner is unemployed. Presently, the public assistance program - Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) - assists only one parent families. Other provisions of the legislation reflect the Congressional mood of austerity and cut benefits to some recipients and strengthen incentives for recipients to work.

Solid opposition to the bill came from the South. Roughly seven out of 10 representatives from the 11 Southern states voted against passage supplying more than 40 percent of the entire opposing votes. No Congressman in Alabama, Mississippi or North Carolina voted for the bill and only in South Carolina did at least half of the Congressional delegation support the legislation. In that state Representatives Davis, Holland and Genrette supported the bill.

Of the Democrats opposing the reforms, Southerners constituted almost 75 percent of the entire group. At the same time, every Southern Republican except Treen of Louisiana, who was campaigning in his home state for governor, voted against the legislation.

Ironically, Southern representatives voted to oppose redistributing federal funds to the South where the major impact of the legislation would be felt. Ten of the 14 states which presently have welfare payments below the proposed floor are Southern - excluding Virginia where AFDC and food stamp payments presently offer benefits equal to about 69 percent of the poverty level. Most of the $900 million increase in federal contributions to state welfare programs would go to Southern states under the bill - which the Southern delegation solidly opposed.

Most Southern members apparently preferred the proposal of Rep. Archer of Texas who moved to recommit the bill to committee with instructions to report back legislation providing eight states and three counties with blocks of funds to run a demonstration welfare system according to their own design and allowing all states to set their own work requirements for welfare recipients. Almost 60 percent of the Southern representatives voted for the Archer amendment which failed by the narrowest margin - 200 in favor and 205 opposed.

Prospects for the legislation's passage in the Senate is uncertain at best since Senate Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long of Louisiana has expressed opposition to the bill.

The chart shows the degree of support for welfare reform from each of the Southern states' Congressional delegation.