Cornish: GOP welfare reforms are misguided

by Erik Tanouye | 11/17/95 6:00am

Sociology Professor Steven Cornish said last night that the Republican party is misguided in its attempts to cut welfare programs.

"It's an attempt to shift the value system of the United States in a direction that I'm not sure the majority of the population wants to go," Cornish said.

Cornish was part of a three-member panel discussion on "The Effects of the Republican Agenda on Issues of Hunger," presented to a small audience in the Rockefeller Center for Social Sciences as part of Hunger Awareness Week.

"They are not perfect," Cornish said of welfare programs, "but there is considerable evidence that these programs are helping."

Cornish said the federal government needs to maintain its role as the "protector of last resort." He called the debate over welfare an "ideological struggle."

"In this struggle, entitlements becomes a dirty word, and welfare recipients become demonized," Cornish said. "The demonization is often close, if not directly, racist in tone."

Another panel member, Anthropology Professor Hoyt Alverson, said a healthy economy does not guarantee an end to poverty and hunger.

"The rising tide [of the economy] is rough water and the yachts can ride it out, but the dinghies will sink," Alverson said.

Alverson said the Republicans' notion that a stronger economy will prevent poverty is historically unfounded.

"There is very little correlation between the numbers and percentages of people in poverty and the overall condition of the economy," he said.

Panelist Avram Patt, the director of the Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, said employment issues are essential to the fight against poverty.

"What will reduce poverty is people being able to make a living," Patt said.

Patt said the Republicans' proposed cuts ignore the "basic and fundamental concept" that someone who works 40 hours a week should be able to "get above the damn federal poverty level."

Patt said the funding for programs that create a "safety net" for the poor should not be cut.

"What's needed in this country is an understanding of a social contract we have always had," Patt said.

"If the point is that you want to blame the poor people for their poverty ... then we're headed for real disaster," Patt said.

Cornish and Patt agreed that the issue should not necessarily be linked to political parties.

"This is not entirely a Republican issue," Cornish said.

Patt said, "I would like to get back to a point at which the debate about poverty and hunger is not a partisan debate."

"I don't think [Newt Gingrich] wants to see people freezing to death and starving," he said. "I basically think most people give a damn."

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