House poised to pass stiffer welfare work rules

Senate hopes to add funds for child care, job training

May 16, 2002|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Republican-led House began debate yesterday on a measure backed by President Bush that would stiffen the work requirements imposed by the landmark 1996 welfare law.

The bill appears likely to win approval today, though it is almost certain to be reshaped in the Democrat-led Senate.

Centrists in the Senate want to provide more money for child care and for education and training, which they say are needed to help those who leave welfare stay out of poverty.

Republicans hope the House debate on how to extend the 1996 welfare law will help them reap some political benefit.

There is broad bipartisan agreement that requiring work from welfare recipients, most of whom are women with children, has helped break a cycle of dependence and has sharply reduced state welfare rolls.

"This is a bill about opportunity for Americans," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

A last-minute snarl over Bush's effort to exempt states from some rules delayed the House debate for much of the day.

The state waiver provision was ultimately watered down, and a vote on the bill had been expected around midnight.

But after a chorus of Democratic procedural complaints, the vote was reset for today.

Bush and House Republicans want to raise the current work requirement of 30 hours a week to 40 hours.

Their bill would also increase the proportion of welfare recipients in each state who must be in the work force to 70 percent, from 50 percent.

House Democrats countered that requiring welfare mothers to work more hours without helping them advance their education meant that the states would have to spend money to put them in "make-work" jobs.

That provision would cost Maryland $144 million, according to Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Democrats also complained that the $2 billion Bush has offered for child care is too little to meet the increased work requirements. They have proposed an increase of $8 billion over five years, in addition to the $4.8 billion for child care already in the program.

"Everyone agrees that the welfare reform bill of 1996 worked, but it worked because we did not impose unrealistic, make-work requirements on states and then leave them with no way to pay for them," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore, who took the lead for the Democrats in the House debate.

Democrats are "making the same dire predictions for this bill that they made in '95 and '96," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas. "The Democrats have no ground on which to stand, other than to applaud the success of welfare reform, which they refuse to do."

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