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House Committee Hears Testimony on Various Welfare Reform Proposals

The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held an April 11 hearing to examine welfare reform reauthorization proposals. Approximately 48 witnesses testified before the subcommittee.

Subcommittee Chair Wally Herger (R-CA) said that the witness list was diverse, including federal, state, and local officials as well as representatives from the religious community. “Despite their differences, all of those who testify today recognize that we can’t rest on the success of the 1996 welfare law (P.L. 104-193).”

Rep. Herger also explained that on April 10, he introduced legislation (H.R. 4090) that is a blueprint of the President’s welfare reform plan with some modifications.

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) said that the basic premise of the successful 1996 law was “giving the states the resources and the flexibility they needed to get the job done.” In the President’s plan, “I was surprised at how many changes there are to those basic principles,” he said, describing the Administration’s proposal as a one-size-fits-all approach that is less flexible and that discriminates against immigrants.

The hearing provided an opportunity for Members who do not serve on the committee to present their views on welfare reform and to promote their proposals. Most of the Members who testified were Democrats whose proposals differed from the President’s plan.

Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) said that she came “to appeal to the subcommittee on behalf of my bill, H.R. 3113.” She told the subcommittee that the bill, with 90 cosponsors, recognizes the importance of education and reducing poverty. “Reducing dependency is a valid goal, but only if it means that families can move onto true self-sufficiency,” she said. “I believe the best way to achieve these goals is to enable women receiving TANF to pursue the training and education they need to get good jobs so that they can leave public assistance permanently, provide economic security for their families, and set an example of achievement and ambition that their children can emulate.”

Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) asked the subcommittee to include in the reauthorization legislation “a provision that would allow states with pre-existing waivers to continue and renew them at state option.” He said that in his state of Massachusetts, where the caseloads have declined more than 50 percent, “the waiver has allowed the state to provide exceptions from work requirements and time limits for the disabled and caretakers of disabled family members, allowing them equal access to employment preparation programs.” In other states, the waiver has allowed recipients to participate in drug abuse treatment programs and count that toward the work requirement.

Representing the U.S. Conference on Mayors, Mayor Martin O’Malley of Baltimore told the subcommittee that “time limits and work participation rate requirements are critical to the continued success of welfare reform.” While the time limits and work requirements “have changed expectations,” he said, “these reforms have resulted in a welfare system that is increasingly concentrated in America’s cities.” For instance, in Maryland, the City of Baltimore “has gone from representing 43% of the State’s welfare caseload to 63% even as the number of cases in our city dropped by more than half” since 1995, he added.

He recommended continuing to provide flexibility to the states and helping people get past the first entry-level job. “We must think creatively about how we get people into jobs and how we engage the private sector, whether with subsidies or training.” Lastly he added, “And we can’t forget the fathers.”

The subcommittee also heard testimony from representatives from the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the Children’s Defense Fund, the McAuley Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Men’s Health Network, the Conference of State Legislators, the National Governors Association, the National Council of La Raza, Catholic Charities, and the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism, to name a few.

Next week, the subcommittee plans to mark up H.R. 4090, the legislation introduced by Rep. Herger that would reauthorize the 1996 law.

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