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House OKs Welfare Bill After Turning Down Democratic Proposals

Rebuffing Democrats’ effort to give welfare recipients more child care assistance and states more flexibility, the House voted today to renew the 1996 law that fundamentally changed the nation’s welfare program.

The bill, almost identical to one passed by the House last year 229-197, was approved 230-192. Eleven Democrats voted for the measure, while two GOP Members cast votes against the bill.

It now heads to the Senate, which did not act on the measure last year.

The bill 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 since Oct. 1.

Speaking on the House floor, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said the original 1996 measure was a key accomplishment.

“Welfare reform is a signal achievement for our House Republican majority,” he said.

“It offers a striking contrast between the core beliefs that inform both our political parties’ appreciation for the proper role of the federal government in helping people in need.”

The measure would fund the main welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, at $16.7 billion annually — a $1 billion increase devoted to child-care needs.

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

“The [bill] builds upon the best aspects of the 1996 welfare reform law: it strengthens work requirements and enhances flexibility for states and localities,” said Education and the Workforce Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio). “It also provides states with significantly more funding for child care, which is a crucial support for welfare families transitioning into the work force.”

Under the bill, 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 they must enter the work force to get benefits.

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

Democrats twice tried to offer substitutes and failed. They then tried to have the bill sent back to committee even though it bypassed the committee process — an effort that also fell short.

Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) offered a plan that would have expanded job training and education programs for recipients; added $11 billion over five years for child care; made reducing poverty an explicit TANF goal by rewarding states that cut child poverty; and allowed states to use block grant money for assistance to legal immigrants.

“They all say they’re for more child care and support and they’re not,” Cardin said on the House floor, referring to Republicans participating in the debate. “I assume then that you’ll be supporting the substitute,” he said.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) offered another alternative, favored by more liberal Democrats, that also would have rewarded states that reduce poverty but would have added $20 billion for child care.

“The Republican plan … is the continuation of a failed policy of the past and preys upon the neediest Americans,” stated Kucinich and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), co-chairmen of the Progressive Caucus.

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