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December 6, 1996

Welfare Reform?

Dear Neighbors:

I wrote a long essay for this month’s Northwest Side Story on the future of home rule. Look for the issue beginning Saturday. All new jokes, I think.


Free Passes are available for two films:

"Mother," starring Albert Brooks, Debbie Reynolds, Rob Morrow, and Lisa Kudrow. A science fiction writer, John Henderson, after two divorces, realizes that if doesn’t straighten out his relationship with his mother, Debbie Reynolds, he is never going to be able to make work with the other women in his life. Passes for two are available for Tuesday, 10 December, at the Pentagon Sony Theatres in the Pentagon Fashion Center. The film starts at 7:30 pm. Please be at the theater by 7:00 pm to pick up your tickets.

"The Evening Star," the sequel to "Terms of Endearment." Starring Shirley MacLaine, Bill Paxton, Juliette Lewis, Miranda Richardson, Ben Johnson, Jack Nicholson. and others. Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry. Passes for two are available for Monday, 9 December, at the Pentagon Sony Theatres in the Pentagon Fashion Center. The film starts at 7:30 pm. Please be at the theater by 7:00 pm to pick up your tickets.

To qualify for a free pass, please follow the following instructions: Send me a message with either the words "Evening Star" or "Mother" in the subject line. If you want to see both films, send two messages. Write your full name (first and last) in the body of the text. That’s it. There are a limited number of passes so respond as soon as you can. I will send you a confirmation message.


Barbara Somson <> writes: "I just read the most recent story. A couple of thoughts. There is a worrisome trend toward people not signing their first and last names. I think this thing could get way off the track if people don’t identify themselves."

I agree. And I’ve been lax. No name, no posting...and no dessert.

And here’s a trend I hope you are not seeing. Some of you are sending notes that include ad hominem attacks on other writers. I’ve edited out these comments as best I can, but I would rather not bother at all. Please make an argument about an idea, not the messenger. This isn’t a usenet group.


A number of you weighed in on the question of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and affirmative action. The comments were erudite, but I don’t want to go "there." Space is limited and I want to keep up focused on the District.


Also free! Free movie passes, short movie reviews, and movie discussion. Send an email message to to subscribe.

Jeffrey Itell


Patterson supports DC as welfare magnet
Larry Seftor

While I do not support "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor," DC’s higher than average welfare payments drew extra recipients to the city from the suburbs. Therefore, it was important to bring our benefits in line with our neighbors, as the recent council action did. Unfortunately, Ward 3 council member Kathy Patterson was in the minority that voted against this proposal.

Several years ago I met with Patterson to urge her to take steps to attract and keep citizens who pay a lot in taxes, but are willing to settle for little in services. I am discouraged to note that she has taken the opposite direction.


Phil Greene

This morning’s Post reported that the D.C. Council had voted 8-5 to reduce welfare benefits by 5%. At the end of the story, there was a "how they voted" list, and I was surprised to see Kathy Patterson in the minority. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but I would like to hear why she voted against the welfare reduction. I know she is a frequent contributor to the DCStory (which I applaud), and I would very much appreciate her comments on this issue.


Will the Real Kathy Patterson Please Stand Up?

It must have been a typo. The real Kathy Patterson wouldn’t have joined Hilda Mason and Harry Thomas in trying to stop long needed Welfare reform, would she? Can someone, maybe even Kathy herself, explain her December 3rd vote?


The Real Patterson
Kathy Patterson

Story contributors have asked about my vote Dec. 3 against another 5% cut in basic welfare benefits.

Some background: I spent 1973-1983 at the Kansas City Star writing about, among other topics, means-tested government assistance programs. In 1975 I spent six months researching and writing a 12-part series on the war on poverty in Kansas City, a series reprinted by the GAO and the Community Services Administration. As a Washington correspondent, I wrote about the Reagan-era new federalism. From 1985 to 1994 I worked at the American Public Welfare Association, first on a childhood poverty project that led to the Family Support Act of 1986 — which required every state to have a welfare-to-work program and thus actually was welfare reform. As APWA communications director I spent 1992 explaining to reporters all over the country what Clinton meant by ending welfare as we know it. Now that I am on the .D.C. Council I find myself unable to act in ignorance on welfare policy.

I am serving on a citizens advisory group on welfare reform named by the mayor. It’s one of the very few times we’ve actually taken advantage of the extraordinary expertise that resides in this town — Bob Greenstein at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (see Broder’s column today in the Post) and Isabelle Sawhill at the Urban Institute, and others, are giving their time to D.C. to develop our new welfare program given the flexibility granted in the law Clinton signed in August.

I recommended months ago, and the mayor finally acted, to opt into the new welfare block grant sooner rather than later because it means more money for D.C. — roughly $13 million more in FY 97. We’re in the process of opting in right now, and we will be writing the new program after the fact through changes in the District’s "state plan." The task force will recommend changes in welfare benefits within a month or two.

Reasons for my vote: (1) The new welfare program under the block grant will include changes in the benefit structure and I think, and said to my colleagues, that reductions in basic benefits should await that more comprehensive action. From an administrative perspective it’s ridiculous to change benefits as often as we have and are. The changes themselves cost time and money. (2) I agree with parity with Maryland and Virginia to diminish any threat of becoming a "welfare magnet" (though, for those who care, what research exists calls into question whether welfare benefits actually act as a magnet). What we have based on yesterday’s vote isn’t parity, though — our benefits are now actually lower in real terms than those in Maryland once you factor in housing costs. But factoring in reality doesn’t play well at the Council these days. Rhetoric plays.

Here is what you DIDN’T read in the Post today. As the Council was cutting $2.9 million in assistance for poor children it also voted AGAINST a $15 million "workforce initiatives" package I put forward to actually enforce actions we took earlier in the year in the "consensus" budget. It would have legislated four policies Barry proposed last January — to require 40 hours of work before receiving overtime (my favorite item in that budget; who’d have thunk we didn’t already require 40 hours), diminish the nighttime and weekend pay differentials, drop optical and dental benefits (already dropped for nonunion workers), and drop a prepaid legal benefit program. We assumed these policy changes in the consensus budget and we spent the savings! But we haven’t realized the savings because they haven’t been negotiated. My package took them off the bargaining table. The vote? Only Frank Smith voted with me. I assume the control board will take that particular action that the Council ! failed to take. Thanks for asking.


Susan Price

I take exception with the view of Pat ( that no one on the City Council approaches a modicum of sense or responsibility. Third Ward Rep. Kathy Patterson regularly displays both qualities. I cite but one recent example: she cast the only vote against confirmation of Anthony Cooper for DC Auditor, a position for which he is clearly unqualified given his dismal track record at DC Lottery. As for the other Council members, this vote shows that with the exception of Patterson, Pat’s view is on target.


Another Penny in the City Fusebox
Carl Bergman

Hiz Honor can rest a little easier now. The City Council has confirmed Tony Cooper as the City Auditor. Cooper brings an earnest desire to perform to the office and little else. Giving him the doubt, he may be a competent administrator. The Auditor’s office requires more. Under the city charter the Auditor has a right to examine anything the city owns - no subpoena required. It is a powerful tool, one that his predecessors understood and used well. (I’ll bet that within a year Cooper says he needs more powers to carry out his office.)

The real fault for this appointment lies with Dave Clark. This is Dave’s third selection for Auditor and it doesn’t hold a candle to his appointments of Otis Troop or Russell Smith. If I were the suspicious type, I’d say Marion must have cut some kind of deal to get a nullity in the Auditor’s office, but I guess Dave, being ever forthright, loused this one up all on his own.

Add to this, an IG who is like Civil War General McClellan. Marching in every direction, except the enemy’s.

We now have occupying the offices charged with keeping a check on government captives of the executive and legislative branches. Or more simply, an Inspector General who won’t and an Auditor who can’t.


District Cablevision: 5 Channels, No Waiting
Donna Ancypa

I second Bob Doherty’s complaint with District Cablevision. While I’m not a sports fan, I too am mystified at how they decide which channels to add and which to toss. Raise your hand, dc.story readers, if you’ve ever considered moving to Maryland or Virginia just for the better cable options.

I’ll support your quest for baseball, but I’ll also be writing them to complain about the imminent loss of VH-1 - don’t hate me because I’m shallow. I love C-SPAN as much as the next person, but cable’s bubble gum entertainment possibilities are why I subscribed in the first place. VH-1’s "Fashion Television" surpasses even "Seinfeld" as the pre-eminent "show about nothing." It’s so soothing after a hard day; just like that fish tank channel I saw once (all fish all the time) - which District Cablevision doesn’t get either.

I feel like we just had the "what’s wrong with District Cablevision" discussion, but if anyone can explain why my parents in Michigan pay less for basic cable and get more channels, I’d appreciate it.


Of generals and such
sam smith

Contrary to the assumption of some of this board’s participants, this "progressive person" actually knows a little bit about flag officers — having been an admiral’s dog robber (aide) at one time. While this man was a paragon of leadership, I got to see quite a few of his ilk during this period and they varied markedly. There did, however, seem to be two prominent classes of multi-starred creatures. On the one hand there were the admirably competent who tended to be rather low keyed and unpretentious. And then there was the crowd that went around reminding everyone what great leaders they were, recited a small collection of cliches over and over and be guided by 13 principles and so forth. I learned to steer clear of the latter sort.


What’s a Meta-for, Anyway?
Charlie Wellander

Wonderful straight-faced reporting by Vanessa Williams in the December 3 Washington Post story on the "miracle" at the D.C. morgue. Acting medical examiner Humphrey D. Germaniuk is quoted: "A couple months ago, the glass was half-empty. Now, the glass is half-full due to the efforts of Mayor Barry."

Taking "full credit" for this apparent victory of style over substance (was the glass rose-colored?), Hizzoner Himself states, "This is a miracle. It took me coming over here and saying, ‘I’m going to get it done.’" Perhaps other readers know of other instances where D.C. officials have been able to turn half-empty glasses into half-full ones?


Pat Hahn

Jeff: Do you really think that the fact that someone is claiming we’re No. 1 in per capita income means that the Norton tax cut plan should be Doomed? This sounds like one of those logic problems. (You know; "roses are red, this piece of fruit I’m holding is red, therefore it must be a rose.") What am I missing here? Did you mean to imply (and forgive me if this wasn’t your point) that a high per capita income number means that the District must therefore have other ways to come up with enough money to balance the budget and improve city services? Is the idea that with such a high per capita income, there must be substantial amounts of money sloshing around which could be taxed to help meet the DC deficit? Not likely. The high per capita income number, if accurate, is the result of a relatively small number of people (well, not just relatively; given the size of the population, it’s an absolutely small number of people) with large incomes. If their taxes are increased, ! they’ll leave (as some already have).

The Norton proposal has the potential to not only prevent more departures, but to bring in more people with high incomes. This sounds like a pretty good outcome, since DC would get the benefit from higher tax revenues and those higher-earning people would hopefully spend more on DC restaurants, cabs, retailers (there may be a few left), etc. I hope Rep. Norton keeps up the great work and the Republican majority in Congress doesn’t decide to lose its collective nerve on this one.


David K. Black

Our moderator suggests that because the District of Columbia has a higher per capita income than any of the fifty states it will be difficult to pass Ms. Norton tax relief proposal. Since he doesn’t say why this should be so, I guess we’re supposed to know. Let me see if I can guess the logic here: Since the District enjoys above average prosperity, its citizens’s don’t deserve a tax break.

The comparison is fallacious. It’s hard to draw any meaningful conclusions from a comparison of the average income of DC residents and those of economically and demographically heterogenous regions like California or New Jersey, for obvious reasons. After all, if average income is a valid indicator of general prosperity, then DC’s recent assent in this ranking must be an indicator of a recent rise in the general prosperity, but nobody thinks that’s the case.

If the average income of the DC resident is $33,452 all that it takes for it go even higher is for somebody making $33,450 to move across the river. If anything, the rising per-capita income in DC only confirms what Norton’s proposal attempts to mitigate: the thundering stampede of the middle class from the District.


In response. First-term congressman Joanna Doe runs for reelection. "I cut taxes in Washington." And a constituent retorts, "Don’t you mean you cut taxes for Washington, DC? Why didn’t you cut our taxes instead?" Or instead imagine the newspaper headline: CONGRESS GRANTS HUGE SPECIAL TAX RELIEF FOR CITY WITH THE HIGHEST PER CAPITA INCOME. This is why I’m quite confident that Congress will not enact Norton’s tax proposal. Why not Orange County? Why not Miami? Why not Chicago? Why not everybody?

Per capita income is not a great measure of District wealth because the income base is so skewed between rich and poor. So try fitting that concept into a USa Today headline.

Pat and David argue that the city deserves a special tax cut because it needs the revenue. That’s a separate question (possibly made moot by the point above) and a more complicated one. Wealth and per capita income are not unrelated. The city collects an enormous amount of revenue. The city’s budget at $5 billion is almost as large as Maryland’s at $7 billion. Yes, I’m comparing Granny Smith with Golden Delicious, but some of us think that the city spends far too much delivering far too little. More revenue won’t fix that problem, which doesn’t mean that more revenue won’t be needed down the line. The problem is that since no one in charge before Tony Williams knew how to add, no one knows how much additional money the city needs.

As for the merits of the flat tax over other revenue schemes, I won’t waste space on that argument again except to say that there are many smart people who think the flat tax would not do what Norton wants it to do...stabilize the middle class. Her plan could work, but nobody knows. That’s the point. It’s a shot in the dark. As for hoping that the "Republican majority in Congress doesn’t decide to lose its collective nerve," it never had one. The majority party never voted on the bill on the floor of the house, in committee, or in subcommittee. The GOP never even held a hearing on it. What stopped them? Jeff]


Ellen Harris

The Hawaii Marriage bill passed in the lower legislation level. If people are interested in supporting future legislation in DC call PFLAG at (202) 638-4200.


Newspaper Advertising
E. James Lieberman

I enjoyed the three responses to my protest about too much newsprint given to large ads—two justified the present arrangement, the third supported my hunch that advertising is based on habit more than it is grounded in research on outcomes.

If you’ve traveled in Europe, you know that newspapers there are much thinner than ours and the "news hole" is proportionately larger (that’s the space devoted to news). They don’t have trees to burn over there; they have to import the raw stuff. Ads are very expensive. They’re used to it; our advertisers are spoiled. Between consumer and business is a great big establishment making money on the idea that they have an essential role in telling us about all the wonderful products out there we might otherwise miss.

The USAA (Insurance Co.) magazine for Oct/Nov 1996 writes about "The Cost of Coupons" (p. 4): The cost of cereals is down in supermarkets. Prices have been lowered as discount coupons have disappeared. Said Linda Golodner, pres.of the Nat. Consumers League in Wash. DC, "A coupon may save you 50 cents off a product, but it costs about 94 cents for a manufacturer to get the coupon to you in the first place." We pay for those costs whether we use coupons or not. Only 2% of the nearly 300 billion coupons distributed last year were used.

I’d rather leave the forest standing.


EVENT: International Coffee House DATE: Saturday, December 7 TIME: 7:00 to 9:30 pm COST: Free, donations welcome WHERE: Fellowship Hall of St. Lukes United Methodist Church corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Calvert St., NW, Washington DC INFO: Pastor David Wong (202) 298-6110.

Washington International Church invites you to the monthly Coffee House. This month’s theme is "Celebrating Christmas Around the World." It will feature performances from a multitude of people from different countries. The talents are great. The food superb! And did you know it is FREE? We also serve STARBUCK’s Coffee. Come early for the best seats. Free parking.

David Wong


AWRT presents "The Marketing of Political Candidates"

Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard and a regular on "The McLaughlin Group" and "Crossfire," will moderate a discussion on the packaging of political candidates and the role the media plays in creating their images. Joining Fred will be pollsters and political consultants: Linda DiVall, American Viewpoint; Tom Ochs, Squier Knapp Ochs; Russ Schriefer, Stevens, McAuliffe, Schreifer; and Joe White, Joe Slade White. This event is presented by American Women in Radio and Television, DC Chapter, and will take place on Thursday, December 12, from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at the National Cable Television Association. NCTA is located at 1724 Massachusetts Avenue, NW (Redline — Dupont Circle). AWRT Members $5; Non-members $10 (fee includes a light breakfast). For reservations, call BJ 202/775-3510.

BJ Cohen Corriveau


Make December 25, 1996, a memorable day for yourself, and those who need you! The District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, otherwise known as the "DCJCC" announces its "10th Annual December 25th Community Service Project".

Since 1986, volunteers from all over the Washington DC area, have participated in the DCJCC Community Service Project on December 25th. It started with a ‘grassroots group’ of fifty people, and grew to 500+ volunteers serving thousands of people in need! This year, join 1,000 volunteers at the new home of the DCJCC at 16th & Q Streets, on December 25th, and help pitch in at a soup kitchen, visit people at the hospital, in nursing homes, and shelters! Then meet back at the DCJCC for a ‘volunteer appreciation party’ — it’s quite a ‘bash’ (only $3 suggested donation).

There is time left to sign up to be a volunteer, or even a team leader. Please contact the DCJCC at: 202/ 775-1765, or by fax. at 202/331-7667 by December 8, 1996!

Sandra Lehner


Jeffrey Itell

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