Policy: Entitlements

D.C. Council panel spurns Jim Graham on welfare

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Jim Graham,Entitlements,Welfare

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham suffered a humiliating legislative defeat Thursday as lawmakers beat back his effort to use an uncommon parliamentary maneuver to revive his vision for the future of the District's welfare program.

Last month, the council committee that Graham chairs approved -- by a single vote -- a plan that would allow some "full-family sanctions" to take effect, a move that would cut aid to some welfare recipients who chose not to comply with the program's requirements.

But Graham argued that the penalties would unfairly hurt children, and on Thursday he employed an arcane parliamentary tactic to call for a new vote, one that would involve the participation of his committee's two new members.

The vote did not go as Graham anticipated: The new members spurned the veteran lawmaker, and the committee again ended up backing its original plan.

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry supported Graham, but at-large Councilwoman Anita Bonds, Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie and Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells formed a coalition to defeat Graham's effort.

"I thought that the outcome was going to be different," Graham told The Washington Examiner. "I thought that council member Bonds was going to vote with us ... She's here to vote her own conscience, but I assumed that she would be voting with council member Barry."

Bonds, who joined the council last month, worked for Barry for decades, and the former mayor lobbied loudly for her vote.

"Do it at your own peril," Barry warned Bonds during a break in proceedings -- but loud enough for most people in the room to hear -- during which legislators summoned lawyers to discuss how to proceed with a vote.

Bonds held firm.

"I'm no one's puppet," Bonds told The Examiner after the vote. "I mean, come on, I've been around a long time. I have my own thoughts."

Wells, a longtime social worker who was the architect of the plan that the committee approved, said Graham's conduct was unseemly.

"The chair's use of mischief was inappropriate," Wells said. "I'm very pleased to see that council members McDuffie and Bonds didn't go for it. Mr. Graham was trying to manipulate the process, and it blew up on him."

Graham said, however, that he was making a determined effort to protect children and that city officials had offered no proof that the sanctions would work.

"This means punishment for innocent children who are leading subsistence lives to begin with," Graham said. "There is no evidence to suggest that full-family sanctions ensure compliance."

But Wells argued that the District had already tried policies to give welfare recipients additional chances, even though most states imposed comparable sanctions.

"We continued to provide temporary support for needy families, and it wasn't temporary. It was permanent," Wells said. "We went ahead and continued to fund the families, and we didn't get better results."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner