Wilson Challenges Weld on Welfare

Radcliffe Head Says Education, Not Time Limits, Will End Dependence

Getting "tough" on welfare reform has been a battle cry of politicians across the nation in recent months.

Nowhere has the battle over the future of welfare been more intense than here in Massachusetts, where Governor William F. Weld '66 has said he is determined to place limits on the length of time welfare recipients may remain on the government payroll.

But Radcliffe President Linda S. Wilson has a few things to say about that. She has responded to Weld's stance by leading a group of 16 female college presidents in an effort to prevent caps from being placed on welfare aid to recipients enrolled in approved higher education programs.

Weld's Reform Plan

The recent surge in government welfare reform has come in large part from a campaign promise by President Bill Clinton to change welfare as we know it."


Since Clinton took office in 1993, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted petitions to 27 states that allow them to explore and design welfare plans that are tailored to each state's needs. Massachusetts' application is still pending.

Governor Weld joined the push for reform in February, when he signed a bill that included, among other provisions, language that bars people from remaining on welfare for more than two out of any five consecutive years.

Although many protested the time limit, Weld defended the bill, saying it will end welfare's tradition of giving rewards for irresponsible behavior. He also said it will help to break the cycle of dependence on welfare for many families. "Welfare in Massachusetts will now be oriented around work and parental responsibility," Weld said when signing the bill.

Women College Presidents

But Wilson disagrees with Weld's arguments and has spoken out against the measure on several occasions. She has also led the Women College Presidents group in actions to prevent Weld's plan from being adopted.

The Women College Presidents is a group comprised of 16 presidents from public and private institutions of post-secondary school education across Massachusetts, and included the presidents of Radcliffe College, Roxbury Community College and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

The group was organized in 1991 by Chancellor Sherry Penney of U-Mass Boston and Zelda Gamson, director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education. Penney is currently the acting president of the U-Mass system.

The two chose to focus the group's efforts on the difficulties faced by students who receive aid under the Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Wilson, who now leads the group with aid of Pamela S. Greene, a public policy fellow at Radcliffe, has continued the women presidents' efforts to support AFDC students.

Wilson has argued on behalf of her colleagues that welfare recipients should not be stereotyped or grouped in a category characterized by the abuse of federal aid. Instead, she says, Massachusetts legislators need to recognize the value of supporting degree programs for hardworking individuals who receive aid under the Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.

"One pervasive myth is that recipients of Aid of Families with Dependent Children are a homogeneous group consisting of able-bodied layabouts who procreate recklessly while the rest of society provides support," Wilson wrote in a February op-ed piece in the Boston Globe.