The Issue Is Poverty

In the aftermath of President Clinton’s signing of "welfare reform" legislation last August, three top administration officials—Peter Edelman, Wendell Primus, and Mary Jo Bane—resigned in protest. Two of them, Edelman and Primus, joined Barbara Howell of Bread for the World, Sharon Daly of Catholic Charities USA, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners in a December 19, 1996 discussion in Washington, D.C., on the social catastrophe this repeal of welfare may bring about—and what the churches can do about it. —The Editors

Jim Wallis: This panel has been convened for the sake of those who are concerned about the aftermath of the welfare reform bill, who care about what happens to those who are poor, and who believe it is a spiritual and religious issue as much as a policy question. Many religious leaders and service providers are organizing around the country already. This crisis may bring us together as we haven’t been together before.

Two of you were members of the administration until recent months. Your decision to resign in response to the signing of the welfare bill sent a very encouraging signal to many of us in religious communities.

Wendell Primus: When I couldn’t defend the principal decision of the president, I really had no choice. How could I go in front of friends and peers and colleagues and defend his decision? I couldn’t disown all the analysis my office produced. A million more children in poverty, at least, and no additional money for work. This is a very bad bill.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1997
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