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Bush has plan for welfare overhaul

Florida should withdraw from the federal government's main welfare program and "dismantle the welfare state," says GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush.

Bush, who hopes to unseat Gov. Lawton Chiles in November, became Monday the latest candidate to announce a reform plan designed to encourage welfare recipients to get off the dole and into the workplace.

Unlike the other candidates, however, Bush would turn down the $450-million Florida received from the federal government last year for a program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Most of the money goes to single mothers raising children.

Bush says the welfare system is "broken fundamentally" and "morally wrong," because it creates a permanent underclass of people dependent on a government check to survive.

He said the changes he proposes are so radical the federal government may not go along with them. Better to scrap the existing system and devise a new one using the state's 45 percent contribution to the program, he said. He nicknamed his program the "Phoenix Project."

His plan would work like this:

A mother (or father) on the program would sign an "accountability agreement" promising to immunize the children and to accept any job offer, with some exceptions. The parent also would have to promise not to use illegal drugs and to submit to random drug tests.

The parent would be told that he or she wouldn't receive any extra benefits for having another child.

The parent could receive job training _ at a price. He or she would "pay" for the training with a reduction in overall benefits. For example, if a mother took three months of training, she might be allowed to receive welfare checks for only 21 months, instead of 24.

Bush said he believed people would take job training, even though it would reduce their benefits, because most people want to get off welfare.

If the parent started working, benefits would be cut only 50 cents for each dollar earned. That way, parents who decide to work would earn extra income, instead of having their welfare benefits taken away, as they often are under the current system.

The parent could receive benefits for no more than 24 months within a four-year period.

Bush, who recently said the state could build 50,000 prison beds without raising taxes, also said the state wouldn't have to increase the amount of money it spends on the welfare program, even after turning down the federal share.

Bush said his plan was designed to break the cycle of people's staying on welfare for years, without hurting people who temporarily need to use the system. "The object isn't to punish people who are down on their luck," he said.