New Jersey's new welfare rules are under attack by civil libertarians, but the state should at least get credit for trying to look at a difficult problem in a different way.
The most controversial part of the new regulations is a measure that discourages women on welfare from having more children. But at the same time, the state offers some welfare recipients the opportunity to marry or take on a job to better themselves without losing welfare benefits.
Critics claim the new law is unfair because it denies women the opportunity to have more children. But the law doesn't really do that. It simply freezes a woman's welfare allocation at the number of children she had when she went on welfare. She can have another child; she simply won't receive more benefits for that child.
That may seem cruel, but New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio made some interesting points in defense of the system during a television appearance this week. When a non-welfare couple considers whether to have another child, he said, they must look at their financial situation. Can they afford it at their current income? Would having another child compromise their ability to care for their other children? Why shouldn't welfare recipients be forced to make the same choices and take on the same responsibilities?
There also are positive trade-offs to the welfare regulations. Members of welfare families can now earn up to 50 percent of the amount of their family's welfare check without losing any of those benefits. Currently, many welfare recipients are penalized for working enough to better their standard of living. They earn less by working than by staying on welfare. Where's the incentive to make it on their own?
And a woman would be able to marry without losing benefits as long as her husband is not the father of the children for whom she is receiving benefits. This rule doesn't exactly conjure up a picture of the ideal American family, but it gives women an option and may help create some stability for welfare children.
And the new regulations will require most welfare recipients to participate in some sort of job training and education. If properly administered, that training could help many people escape the welfare treadmill.
New Jersey should be commended for trying to come up with some innovative solutions to deal with a welfare system that clearly isn't working. The plan may take some fine tuning, but it could turn out to be a model to be followed by other states across the country.