Peter Edelman, Professor of Law at Georgetown University and former Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, spoke to a crowd of between two and three hundred on the current state of welfare at Finney Chapel on Sunday.
"We wouldn't be in this pickle if the President had vetoed this bill in the first place," Edelman said, on the current state of welfare in America.
Edelman received national attention last fall when he resigned from the Clinton Administration after Clinton signed the Welfare Reform bill and, as Edelman said, "removed the last vestige of risk." Before resigning he advised Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services on matters including welfare.
In his lecture Edelman denounced the Republican congress and President Clinton for passing the welfare reform bill. Edelman said the bill was internally inconsistent because the supporters accepted it on different grounds. He said some people wanted to abolish welfare on moral grounds while others wanted to devolve power back to the states and still others wanted simply to cut the budget.
Edelman said, "The saddest thing about all of this is, is that we shouldn't be talking about this." He went on to say, "Addressing the growing gap in wealth is not even a national issue ... all of us have to care."
Edelman said Republican governors, such as Pete Wilson of California, believe the bill place too heavy a financial burden on the states.
Because of the three-year-benefit limit, Edelman projects that in five years, 80 percent of the welfare case load will be people who have not been on welfare before.
He also warned against the elimination of safety nets in general. "There are always going to be a significant number of people who cannot work for some reason or other," Edelman said.
Edelman told a story of a young man in Fort Worth, Texas who wrote poetry at a safe-haven in the crime-ridden west side. Edelman read a poem by the fifteen-year-old about his elderly grandmother, and his wish that she could someday be safe from violence in the area. Edelman said that this kind of situation shows that our society is not giving young people enough hope for what is really out there for them. He said the young man should have been able to think of grander goals than simply living in a safe place.
When Edelman checked up on the boy a year later, he found the boy was in prison. Edelman said it was the system that could allow this person to fail that was at fault.
In order to ameliorate the situation, Edelman called for students and young people to get involved with politics. He observed a large interest by students in communities but said, "There seems to be a water's edge between this interest and politics and policy. Social changes cannot be made if people don't see connections to public policy."
After the lecture, students asked specific questions about the effects of the welfare bill and what they could do as citizens to help. Others asked specific questions about Edelman's opinions concerning the bill.
Junior Ramy Khalil asked questions on Edelman's involvement in changing the welfare structure. Afterward he said, "Poverty will not be eliminated by politely begging the Democrats."
Edelman finished his talk on the state of welfare by saying, "The situation must be confronted in a positive way."
Reform movement: Professor Edleman lectured on welfare issues to a small crowd at Finney last week. (photo by Zach Fried)
Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 14; February 14, 1997
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