WELFARE IN AMERICA; Congressional Record Vol. 141, No. 126
(Senate - August 01, 1995)

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[Pages S11099-S11101]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                           WELFARE IN AMERICA

  Mr. ASHCROFT. Madam President, I take this opportunity to raise 
important issues relating to a set of concerns which will be before the 
Senate next week, or perhaps even late this week.
  I am talking about our responsibility to reform a welfare system, a 
welfare system which has been a tragic failure. All too frequently, we 
speak of this tragic failure as if it is a tragic failure in terms of 
dollars and cents. The tragedy of this failure is compounded. It is not 
just dollars and cents, or not even most importantly dollars and cents.
  The tragedy of this failure is it is a failure in terms of human 
lives, the lives of children, the lives of families. It is a failure 
not only in terms of a single generation, but it is a failure that 
extends to lives that will exist in the future.
  I will talk a little bit about that story. I have been talking about 
different stories in the welfare system, and the tragedies, the human 
face of this tragedy, for the last several days.
  I might point out, you might think these are special cases I have 
somehow gained access to. The cases which I am addressing are cases 
which have appeared in the mainstream media. The first case was 
recorded in detail in the Chicago Tribune. Yesterday's case was 
reported in detail in the Boston Globe.
  These cases are cases which have been a part of the mainstream 
reporting. A case which I will talk about today is the story of Rosie 
Watson and her successful 18-year endeavor to get welfare benefits for 
all seven members of her family. This is a story that is a vivid 
illustration of how the system entices people to try to game the 
system, even to be industrious in working the system, instead of 
working in the productive arena of American culture.
  The Baltimore Sun reported in January that Rosie Watson, her common-

[[Page S11100]]
  law husband, and their seven children live in Lake Providence, LA, and 
they receive annually, $46,716 in tax-free income--$46,716 in tax-free 
income. That is principally from a Federal supplemental security income 
  Now, this woman, Ms. Watson, has an addiction to Federal welfare. 
That addiction began when she was 23 years of age. She started 
receiving Federal AFDC payment checks for herself and her two small 
  According to the Baltimore Sun, as the number of children in the 
family expanded, Ms. Watson soon discovered her family's income could 
be significantly expanded by switching from ordinary welfare to SSI, 
the supplemental security income. That is the Federal Government's 
welfare program that distributes payments to a broad range of 
beneficiaries that include disabled adults that cannot work and the 
families of children with so-called mental and learning disabilities.
 Since 1974, Ms. Watson has submitted no fewer than 17 applications to 
Social Security law judges. She submitted these applications on behalf 
of herself and members of her family in an attempt to receive the 
maximum Federal welfare allotment possible.

  She claimed that she was too stressed out to work, and Ms. Watson was 
certified to receive Federal welfare benefits because of the 
disability, because she was too stressed out to work.
  Her common-law husband likewise was approved to receive welfare 
payments after he successfully argued that he was overweight and his 
overweight condition constituted a physical disability that made him 
too heavy to work.
  Moreover, since there is no limit to the number of times that anyone 
can ask for assistance, after even being turned down, Ms. Watson simply 
continued to file welfare petitions until she eventually secured 
payments of $458 each for all seven of her children.
  According to a feature in the Baltimore Sun, all of Ms. Watson's 
children were ultimately awarded full SSI benefits because they 
``lagged behind in school and scored poorly on psychological tests, 
which, under Government rules, translates in a failure to 
demonstrate''--and this is the term of art we use in the law--``age-
appropriate behavior.''
  Madam President, it is no surprise that across the land citizens are 
irate and they derisively refer to these monthly SSI checks that go to 
these individuals who do not have age-appropriate behavior as ``crazy 
checks,'' because if the children will act out aggressively, 
irrationally, will perform poorly, they can qualify themselves for $458 
a month.
  But that is not all. Ms. Watson soon discovered that persistence pays 
off. In the case of our Federal welfare system, it pays off big. In the 
case of the Watson family, $37,000 in tax-free, retroactive, lump-sum 
payments, because the lump sum was designed by our Federal system to 
say, ``We probably should have granted you these payments earlier. Here 
is a check or here are checks totaling $37,000 because you have finally 
convinced us that you are all incapable of functioning.''
  Madam President, as I mentioned earlier, the issue here is not the 
amount of money the Federal bureaucracy is sending to this family every 
month. The real issue, the real issue is the toll this cycle of 
dependency collects in terms of human lives. In this case, the real 
issue concerns Ms. Watson's children and the devastating impact that 
this life style has on their lives.
  Next to me is a picture of her 16-year-old daughter, Oleaner. She is 
not encouraged to pursue any of the dreams normal to a 16-year-old 
child. She is not doing well in school, in sports, or any extra 
curricula activity. It seems that her main use to her mother is the 
check that she ensures will show up in the mailbox every month. At 13 
years of age, she was officially classified as unfit to work or to 
study or to do anything but collect checks.
  Oleaner has become ensnared in a system which her mother manipulates 
for financial gain at the expense of her children's futures. She brings 
the family $458 per month and is paid $20 a month in allowance because 
of it. In order to qualify for these benefits, the children have 
forsaken their educations, their dreams, their futures, all sacrificed 
to the monthly check in the mailbox, which in a very strange way 
becomes their representation of what they are worth. They are worth 
something in terms of welfare.
  According to the principal of the children's former elementary 
school, the abuse of these ``crazy checks'' is very widespread. Mr. 
Willie Lee Bell receives a questionnaire from the Social Security 
Administration--he is the principal--every time a student applies for 
benefits. He estimates that half of the students have applied for the 
benefits. He believes that many of these students are encouraged or 
even coached by their parents in a manner that makes them eligible to 
receive the so-called ``crazy checks.'' The children, he says, do not 
want to fail. They are just doing what mama wants.
  Mrs. Watson's youngest son, George, was suspected of having been so 
coached. In 1991, the authorities alleged that he was not trying up to 
the best of his ability on the IQ tests. Ms. Watson denies the charge, 
saying she has never told any of her children to act crazy in order to 
get some money.
  The effect on school performance is clear. Children must be 
disruptive, they must be noisy, they must be slow. If not, their checks 
will cease.
  According to the Baltimore Sun, the message for this family and the 
message sent by this system is that it is not education that will 
provide advancement, it is not achievement, but it is disruption. 
Government assistance checks follow this kind of counterproductive 
  The message to her son George from Mrs. Watson is clearly evident by 
a dispute last year in school. George's school books were taken from 
his locker. The principal told him he had to pay for them. Ms. Watson 
refused to pay. George then flunked all of his courses. George then 
would have to repeat the seventh grade, and Ms. Watson bragged about 
the additional year as a result and the ability to collect these kinds 
of payments.
  Madam President, we are now days away from the welfare debate. There 
is a near unanimous consensus from Republicans that the tragedy of 
cases like these demands immediate reform. SSI must be reformed. But 
from President Clinton and from those on the other side of the aisle, 
we hear: No proposal. There is silence. It is a silence which is 
  The people of America have sent us to this Chamber to change the way 
business is done.
  Madam President, silence and apathy are the twin evils that have 
allowed this Washington-based, Washington-knows-all system to stifle 
the poor, that have ensnared the poor. The answer from the Democrats is 
more spending, more bureaucracy, more rhetoric, less reform, and on 
this point, silence.
  We cannot accept reforms that are little more than half measures 
designed to make the American people think they have done something 
about welfare. We have been down that road before.
  In 1988 we passed a so-called revolutionary welfare bill that did two 
things. First, it ensnared more people in the web of dependency. 
Second, it increased the costs of welfare. You can see this on the two 
charts that are here behind me, a major welfare reform in 1988 and see 
the spike in the costs.
  Here is a percentage chart showing the number of children, or the 
percentage of children in poverty in our country. Notice that the war 
on poverty began in the 1960's. We had a relatively low figure. But as 
we have waged our so-called war on poverty, we found out we were waging 
war on the future of our children, as larger and larger numbers of our 
children found their way into the despair of poverty, ensnared by a 
welfare system which captured them rather than liberated them.
  It is time for us to reform a system which has sought, perhaps, noble 
objectives. But it has elicited the worst of behavior.
  It is time, Madam President, for us to do real reform. No 
rearrangement of the deck chairs on the welfare Titanic will save us. 
We have to repudiate the current system. We have to institute reforms. 
We have to capitalize on the ingenuity and creativity and capacity of 
State and local governments, even governments like the District of 
Columbia which are addressing the 

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central problems of the absence of family and the absence of work in 
the welfare system.
  They know that Government cannot solve this problem, cannot solve it 
alone, cannot solve it just with more money. The more money we have 
spent, the greater the problem has grown.
  The real cost in this entire operation is not just a cost in terms of 
financial resources. It has been a cost in lost lives. It has been from 
those who have sought to use their families, to abuse the system. It 
has been a cost of the future of children, and it will be the cost of 
the future of America if we do not correct this.
  Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Ashcroft). Without objection, it is so