- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 13, 2002

Every lower-income American aspiring to a brighter future lost a champion Aug. 11 when Charles D. Hobbs died at age 68 in Klamath Falls, Ore., after a long illness.
Most Americans have never heard of Chuck Hobbs. And yet, because of his dedicated efforts over 30 years, Congress and three presidents took major steps to reform a welfare system that had systematically consigned millions of poor Americans to lives of permanent dependency on a government dole.
Mr. Hobbs came to public policy work after 12 years in the aerospace industry, where he supervised development of early computer-based command-and-control systems, including the one that managed the Apollo moon shot program. While working in Huntsville, Ala., he volunteered his skills to organize the impoverished West End Community. That experience made Chuck Hobbs a crusader not for showering more benefits on the poor, but for changing public assistance from a sentence of permanent dependency to a shining opportunity for self-sufficiency and human dignity.
Recruited into Gov. Ronald Reagan's administration in California, Mr. Hobbs became a principal architect of Mr. Reagan's landmark 1972 welfare reform program. At a time when a Republican president was urging Congress to give the able-bodied poor a do-nothing guaranteed annual income, Mr. Reagan, almost alone among the nation's governors, spoke forcefully for the alternative: honest work and earned independence.
President Richard Nixon's program died in a Democratic-controlled Congress. In 1984, Mr. Reagan, then president, called Chuck Hobbs to Washington. There he set out, with Mr. Reagan's blessing, to engineer the nation's first thorough welfare reform in a generation.
After a year of research, published in 1987 as a seven-volume set titled "Up From Dependency: A New National Assistance Strategy," Mr. Hobbs set out on the hard and often thankless behind-the-scenes task of beating on agency heads to get them in line with the president's policies.
His instrument was the Low Income Opportunity Board, composed of representatives of the affected Cabinet departments. Its goal was to force agencies notably the departments of health and human services and of agriculture to create waiver options so innovative states could test new policies, such as turning Aid For Dependent Children (then the nation's largest welfare program) and food-stamp entitlements into block payments to welfare recipients taking private sector jobs.
Mr. Hobbs was no ivory tower theorist. From his early work in Huntsville's West End and as deputy director of California's huge welfare program, Mr. Hobbs knew the able-bodied poor, freed from suffocating government-enforced dependency, could build better lives for themselves. He was a frequent visitor to low-income communities, and invited dozens of their leaders to the White House for conferences where they had a real opportunity to shape policy.
The Family Support Act of 1988 was the immediate, though limited, result of Chuck Hobbs' careful groundwork and advocacy. The welfare reform act of 1996, signed by President Clinton, was the crowning triumph of Mr. Hobbs' efforts, although he had departed the White House in 1989.
After that government service, Mr. Hobbs was a founder of the American Institute for Full Employment in Oregon. That institute shepherded into a reality a remarkably effective welfare-to-work program now called Oregon First, based on the eminently common-sense proposition: "You don't have enough income? We'll find you a job."
Chuck gladly served on the boards of HOME, a national self help network for welfare recipients; the National Association of Resident Management Corps. (for public housing); and the Empowerment Network. Even though he rose to the lofty rank of assistant to the president, his name rarely made the headlines. Yet his influence, diligently applied and multiplied over more than 30 years, left a splendid legacy for all Americans who believe that today's poor people deserve a better chance to move "Up from Dependency."
Modest, sincere, dedicated, honorable, principled, compassionate, of perfect integrity, a loving husband and father, Chuck Hobbs lived a life of great achievement on behalf of his fellow Americans. It is not often anyone can say that of a departed friend. We who knew, admired and loved Chuck Hobbs for more than 30 years find it easy to say. Chuck was a man who truly believed in the saying that President Reagan kept on his desk throughout his public career "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he is not worried about who gets the credit."
When the next round of Presidential Medals of Freedom are handed out, Chuck Hobbs' name ought to be high on the list.

John McClaughry, formerly senior policy adviser in the Reagan White House, is now president of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont. John A. (Jack) Svahn was assistant to the president for policy development for President Reagan and a colleague of Chuck Hobbs in Gov. Reagan's administration in California.


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