If ever there was a need in 1997 to abandon the splintering partisanship spanning American politics, that time is now, during a period when federal and state lawmakers are earnestly searching for a way to alter the welfare reform overhaul to protect themselves from the backlash of those being disenfranchised by such action.

At last month’s national conference of governors, many state executives, including our own Gov. Wilson, did a turn-about, calling for the continuation of Social Security Insurance benefits for mostly blind, disabled and elderly legal immigrants.

Most who are scheduled to lose their benefits may never go to work because of their infirmity. Who will be expected to provide accommodation for these elderly and disabled?

Even by the most conservative estimate of 87,000 legal immigrants who face the loss of public assistance in California, nowhere in America will the loss of benefits be felt as significantly as in Los Angeles County. The seriousness of welfare reform on our culture warrants bipartisan consideration.

It is time once every 10 years or so to put partisanship aside and do what is right. That time is now.

We witnessed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when lawmakers abandoned party interests to advance the notion that all Americans are granted equal protection under the law, and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including voting rights.

In 1983, Congressional leaders departed from the politics of division and reached a compromise that has preserved the stability of the Social Security system well into the early part of the next century.

Now in 1997, record numbers of our fellow citizens are moving off welfare, because the law gives them no choice. Whether they are moving permanently into the realm of work or toward the uncertainty and despondency of poverty remains an open question.

To our leaders in Sacramento and Washington: let’s establish tax credits and other meaningful incentives to place welfare recipients into jobs.

California’s economy is healthy enough that those who have benefited from extraordinary economic growth can use their resources to invest in our people. Are there any factors in corporate America that motivates business leaders other than profit?

We in the non-profit world are aggressively working with businesses throughout Southern California to hire people on welfare. Through joint partnerships with California businesses to provide job training, affordable before and after-school care for children of working poor and middle income families, and case management counseling new arrivals, we are committed to ensuring that all Californians be given an opportunity to build better lives.

We can be the purveyors of our own destiny. But in our quest for moral and economic renewal, must we penalize those who have become part of the American experience, who just happened to be born on foreign soil?

Legal immigrants have honored our laws, have played by the rules and have fulfilled every request that this nation has made of them. Paying taxes and contributing to a better community are all staples of a legal immigrant’s American journey.

To punish persons in the fourth quarter of their lives is not right whether it be a response to an undesirable social condition or setting a moral tone for others.

Welfare reform isn’t about abandoning the most vulnerable in our society. It is about pushing a generation of public assistance recipients off of welfare and into work fare and day care.

Politics ought to be above choices and alternative paths and decisions. Some alterations in welfare reform can advance our national interest of ending the perilous condition of abject poverty in America. Today, we ask all lawmakers, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, to heed this call for healing.

Monsignor Gregory Cox is executive director of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, the human services arrn of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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