- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

States have not collected enough data on the family-cap welfare policy to show whether it works or not, the General Accounting Office said in a report released this month.
Under the family cap one of the most contested pieces of the 1996 welfare reform family's welfare checks are "capped" according to the size of a family when they enroll on welfare. Welfare checks aren't increased, as happened under pre-reform rules, if the mother has additional babies while on welfare.
Twenty-three states, including Maryland and Virginia, have some form of a family cap, the GAO said in its report to Reps. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat; Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat; and Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican.
Because of data limitations, the GAO said, "we cannot conclude that family cap policies reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock births, affect the number of abortions, or change the size of the [welfare] caseload."
The GAO recommended that the federal government take steps to get better data on this and other welfare policies pertaining to unwed childbearing.
According to data from 20 states, the GAO estimated that during an average month in 2000, about 108,000 welfare families, or 9 percent of the caseload, were affected by family caps.
"Capped" families received an average of $100 a month less than they would have without a family cap, the GAO said.
Locally, in Maryland, an average of 848 families were capped each month, or 3.2 percent of the caseload. Capped families forfeited an average of $89 a month.
In Virginia, the average number of capped families was 1,962, or 6 percent of the caseload. Their loss was about $66 a month.
The GAO noted that families with capped benefits received more in food stamps than same-size families whose benefits were not capped.
The GAO also estimated that 88 percent of capped families did not have yet another child while on welfare; however, 12 percent did.
The family cap is an option in the 1996 welfare reform law, which comes up for reauthorization next year.
The policy sparked major debates in 1996: Proponents said the cap was needed to stop "rewarding" unwed childbearing by mothers who cannot support the children they have. Opponents, including Mr. Rangel and Mr. Smith, said the policy would violate poor women's right to reproductive choices or would drive them to seek abortions.

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