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Republicans Prepare Welfare Bill Calling for Longer Workweek, Marriage Promotion

House Republicans plan to introduce a bill to reauthorize the landmark 1996 welfare reform program “very soon,” GOP aides said Friday.

The legislation would bump up the welfare workweek by 10 hours to 40. Welfare recipients would have to spend at least 24 hours in direct work while being allowed to spend up to 16 hours in state-approved activities such as job training, schooling or getting substance-abuse treatment.

And a new program would funnel $300 million a year into marriage-promotion programs.

The welfare program, which provides block grants to states and requires welfare recipients to work, expired Sept. 30, 2002. It has been extended through the continuing resolutions that have kept the government functioning while Congress continues to work through the spending bills that were due by Oct. 1.

The bill is almost identical to one that passed the House last year, 229-197, but was not acted upon in the Senate.

Republican aides for the Ways and Means Committee said GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) would introduce the legislation in the next few weeks.

The bill’s supporters want states to be able to tap into that fund immediately instead of waiting for the rest of the bill’s Oct. 1, 2004, effective date.

The measure would maintain funding for the main welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, at $16.7 billion a year despite dramatic declines in caseloads, which have dropped nationally from 14 million in 1994 to just 5 million today, according to the Health and Human Services Department.

It would add $2 billion over five years to the $4.8 billion it would authorize for child-care programs.

Under the proposal, states would have to increase the work requirement by 5 percent annually until 70 percent of welfare families are participating in work and job training activities by 2008. States have flexibility now in deciding who has to work and how quickly in order to get benefits.

The bill would not lift the lifetime cap on cash benefits of five years instituted by the 1996 overhaul.

Countering previous predictions that children would be thrown into poverty, the GOP aides pointed out that Census Bureau statistics showing 3 million children have been lifted out of poverty since 1996.

The bill would address child-care concerns by requiring states to devote at least 6 percent of block grant money to improving child-care program quality, and would also dedicate $20 million annually to “responsible fatherhood” programs.

Such programs include ones that give job training to low-income dads, promote marriage and “enlist faith-based and community groups to provide support to fathers and families,” according to a committee fact sheet.

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