House panel continues to refine welfare bill

March 01, 1995|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Responding to Democratic criticism, House Republicans unveiled a revised welfare bill yesterday that abandons a proposed lifetime prohibition on cash payments to teen-age mothers but toughens work requirements for recipients.

As the House Ways and Means Committee prepared to vote section by section today on the proposal, Democrats welcomed some of the changes proposed by the panel's Republican majority, but they remained opposed to the overall thrust of the measure.

"I think we made some progress," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat.

Still, Rep. Sam M. Gibbons of Florida, the committee's senior Democrat, lashed out at the GOP plan, arguing that the Republicans are trying to finance a tax cut on the backs of poor children.

"This is stealing money from poor children who can't vote, to give it to very wealthy people who don't need the money," he said angrily.

Responded Rep. Mac Collins, a Georgia Republican: "That is bull and you know it."

A GOP committee aide estimated that the legislation would save $30 billion over five years. A Clinton administration official pegged the savings at $50 billion when combined with changes in nutrition programs approved last week by another committee.

The welfare proposal is part of the "Contract with America," the manifesto of House Republicans.

The Republican plan would change Aid to Families With Dependent Children, the major cash assistance program, and about four dozen other federal programs into block grants to states. The states would administer the assistance, and few strings would be attached by Congress.

The bill would end the 60-year concept of entitlement for AFDC recipients that guarantees benefits to anyone who qualifies, regardless of the cost to the government. Federal spending would be kept at the 1994 level of $15.355

billion for five years; states would not be required to maintain their current spending.

As adopted by a Ways and Means subcommittee last month, the bill would have denied AFDC payments permanently to teen-age mothers and to their children until age 18, its most controversial feature.

It also would have limited recipients to five years of payments, denied benefits to most non-citizens and imposed work requirements that Democrats attacked as not sufficiently demanding.

The version unveiled yesterday would deny benefits to a teen-age mother and her children only until she reached age 18, a change welcomed by Democrats and some Republicans.

Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, a Connecticut Republican, noting that states could impose more stringent standards, said, "I don't think any state in their right mind would make a person ineligible for the rest of their lives."

As approved by the subcommittee, the bill required adult welfare recipients to work after two years on the rolls. In addition, the bill told the states to have 20 percent of their recipients working by the year 2003.

Yesterday, the Republicans raised that to 50 percent for adults in single-parent families and 90 percent for two-parent families.

Nevertheless, Mr. Cardin criticized the provision.

"The most important provision of this bill is the work requirement," he said. "We all want to see people get off welfare and into work."

Trying to discourage out-of-wedlock births, Republicans added a potentially controversial provision that Democrats said would require states, for the first time, to report to the federal government the number of abortions performed annually.

States would be rewarded financially for reducing out-of-wedlock births, but the bill would factor abortions into the calculation, an effort to assure that the births aren't reduced simply by increasing the number of abortions.

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