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Congress Approves 10th Extension of Welfare Programs

On June 29, the House approved, by voice vote, a bill (H.R. 3021) to extend the 1996 welfare reform law (P.L. 104-193) through September 30, 2005. The Senate approved the measure by unanimous consent on June 30. It will now go to the White House for President Bush’s signature.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a welfare reauthorization bill (S. 667) on March 9 (see The Source, 3/11/05). The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources approved its version of the measure (H.R. 240) on March 15. Since its expiration in September 2002, Congress has approved ten extensions of the 1996 law. The most recent extension expired on June 30.

Contending that the 1996 welfare reform law “produced remarkable results,” Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA) stated, “Work among welfare recipients doubled. The poorest single-mother families reported a 67 percent increase in their real earnings between 1995 and 2002. Single mothers’ real wages continued to increase during the 2000-2004 period, despite the 2001 recession and terrorist attacks. Despite predictions of welfare reform opponents that the 1996 welfare bill would increase poverty, the number of children in poverty fell by more than 1 million. The black and Hispanic child poverty rates hit record lows. Welfare caseloads fell 60 percent to their lowest levels since 1965.” Rep. Herger added, “In 2002 and 2003, the House passed comprehensive welfare reform legislation that would have extended these programs for a full 5 years. That legislation also included modest adjustments designed to encourage and support more work, higher incomes, stronger families, and less poverty. The House-passed bills offered up to $4 billion over 5 years and added child care funding to support more work. Unfortunately, our friends in the Senate did not follow suit, and so we have been forced to come to the floor with repeated short-term extensions.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), a former welfare recipient, said that “instead of making the [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] TANF law better, instead of giving welfare recipients the tools needed to move from welfare to self-sufficiency, we are once again extending a bill that has continuously moved people from welfare into permanent poverty.” She added, “Why are we not making education or training count as a work activity for welfare recipients so that individuals can receive the skills they need for jobs that actually pay a livable wage, jobs that pay above the poverty level? Why are we not providing quality child care that includes care for infants and for weekend and evening workers to help welfare parents keep their jobs and become self-sufficient, because if parents do not have a safe convenient place to leave their children, they cannot go to work? And if they do, they can really concentrate on their job. Believe me, I know because, over 35 years ago, I was a single mother with three small children…Even though I was working full-time, I needed welfare to keep our lives together. But it was not until my mother moved to our town and I could have her take care of the children during the day that I could pay 100 percent attention to the work that I was doing. As soon as she moved to town, I was promoted to management in my company because I did not have one ear and eye home and one at the job.”

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