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House Passes Welfare Renewal Bill

On May 16, after two days of rancorous debate, the House approved, 229-197, legislation (H.R. 4737) that would reauthorize programs under the 1996 welfare law (P.L. 104-193) through FY2007. Only four Republicans voted against the measure, while 14 Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

Proponents of the House-passed measure contended that the legislation builds on the success of the 1996 welfare law. They argued that the bill would maintain high levels of child care funding, and that because welfare caseloads have dropped significantly since the 1996 law was enacted, states will be able to devote more money to expand access to quality child care.

Opponents claimed that the increased work requirements for welfare recipients and the increase in the work participation rates for states would force states to focus on moving welfare recipients into make-work activities rather than into real jobs. They also expressed concern that the level of child care funding would not meet the new work requirements.

Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-WA) argued that the bill has sufficient child care funding. “We are finding that child care for infants and children with disabilities, and during evening and weekend hours, is expensive and scarce,” she said. “That is why our bill provides an additional $2 billion over 5 years for child care, despite its already historically high levels.”

“I think it is interesting that we are having this conversation,” responded Rep. Karen Thurman (D-FL). “In the Republican bill that we are looking at today, we would increase child care funding by $1 billion over the next 5 years,” she said. “Let me just say to my colleagues, just in my state alone, in Florida, it would require an additional $155.5 million over 5 years in child care funding,” she added.

“I will remind the gentlewoman from Florida that the number that we are increasing child care by is not $1 billion over 5 years, it is $2 billion over 5 years, and that the states are provided with very liberal waiver authority to handle anything that might be a problem to them in their states,” answered Rep. Dunn.

“This whole issue of how much money, I do not know how the American people follow it,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA). “The fact is that the bill makes mandatory $1 billion for child care. Any additional money is subject to appropriation,” he explained. “That second billion dollars is not guaranteed, and we have a terrible budget mess,” he added.

“In Minnesota alone today there are nearly 5,000 families on the waiting list for child care. That is the entire population of the City of St. Paul Park,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). “We are now doubling work requirements for mothers with children under the age of 6. This will add thousands more families to our waiting list, costing Minnesota more than $100 million,” she added.

“In my home State of West Virginia, 85 percent of the children in child care are in subsidized child care,” said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). “Today, there are over 13,000 parents and children who benefit from this in West Virginia, and this increase will ensure that more parents will have the opportunity to benefit,” she stated, adding, “H.R. 4737 will continue high levels of support for child care while adding, at minimum, $2 billion in additional funds for child care over 5 years.”

The legislation would require welfare recipients to work a full 40-hour week, up from 30 hours under current law, and states would be required to put at least 70 percent of their welfare clients to work by 2007, up from the current 50 percent in 2002. Recipients would be required to spend 24 hours of their 40-hour week in direct work, and states would have the flexibility to decide which activities, such as education or substance abuse treatment, should be included in the remaining 16 hours.

Basically, the bill reflects the plan outlined by the President last February. It would provide level funding of $16.6 billion annually from FY2003 through FY2007 for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which gives block grants to states to design welfare programs that focus on moving recipients away from government dependence and into the job market.

While states would be given the flexibility to design programs that fit their needs, states also would be required to meet certain federal standards. As in current law, states would be required to impose a five-year time limit on federally funded benefits to welfare recipients; however, states would be able to exempt up to 20 percent of their caseload from this time limit. . For any three months within a 24-month period, recipients could meet the 24-hour direct work requirement by engaging in certain short-term activities that promote self-sufficiency, such as substance abuse counseling or treatment, rehabilitation treatment and services, work-related education or training, and job search.

The bill would reauthorize mandatory child care funding at $2.9 billion annually from FY2003 through FY2007, a $200 million annual increase over FY2002. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) discretionary fund would be reauthorized at $2.3 billion in FY2003. That amount would increase by $200 million for each fiscal year until it reaches $3.1 billion in FY2007. The CCDBG is currently funded at $2.1 billion in FY2002.

States would be required to set aside 6 percent of their funding for activities designed to improve the quality and availability of child care, a 2 percent increase over current law. Additionally, the bill would allow states to transfer 50 percent of their TANF block grant fund into child care. Current law allows only 30 percent to be transferred.

Under current law, the government can keep a portion of past-due child support payments in cases in which families have received welfare. H.R. 4737 would provide financial incentives to states to give more of the money directly to mothers and children, especially mothers who have left welfare.

The bill also would replace the “illegitimacy bonus” in current law, which rewards states with the highest reduction in the number of out-of-wedlock births, with a marriage promotion matching grant program. The bill would authorize up to $300 million annually for programs that encourage healthy, two-parent families. These programs could include pre-marital education, marriage mentoring programs, and counseling, in addition to research and technical assistance to states.

Additionally, the legislation would authorize a $20 million annual grant program from FY2003 through FY2007 to support community efforts to promote responsible fatherhood. The bill would reauthorize $50 million in each of FY2003 through FY2007 for abstinence-only education programs. It also would reauthorize for one year the Transitional Medical Assistance program, which provides temporary health coverage to individuals and families moving off welfare who are not eligible for Medicaid.

Arguing in support of abstinence education programs, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) stated, “Over 50 percent of the sexually active young women in this country between the ages of 18 and 22…are infected with HPV….These statistics are terrifying. They show that the safer-sex model does not solve the problem.”

Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) disagreed, “I would urge my colleagues to remember that more than 80 percent of parents support comprehensive sex education. Why is the federal government not listening?”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) added, “We must educate young men and women to prevent unwanted pregnancies, not to mention HIV and AIDS, and yet the GOP welfare bill continues the dangerous abstinence-only until marriage program, which will prohibit any mention of contraception, even in the context of preventing HIV and AIDS.”

However, Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) countered, “I would like to accent that abstinence-only programs do not, do not prohibit educators from discussing the facts about the effectiveness of contraceptives, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, or any other topic that might be raised. The only requirement is that the use of contraceptives cannot be advocated. Only abstinence can.”

The House rejected, 198-222, a Democratic substitute that would have provided an extra $11 billion over five years for child care services and would have restored TANF benefits for legal immigrants. Based on legislation (H.R. 3625) sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the substitute also would have maintained the 30-hour work requirement for welfare recipients and would have increased the time for which vocational education could count toward participation rates from 12 months, as in current law and the House-passed bill, to 24 months.

“The bottom line is that this bill may not be perfect, it may not be, but it is a significant reform building on the successes of 1996, and passage of this bill today is a vital step to completing the task that we started in 1996,” said Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ).

“Fortunately there is a Senate to correct the hopelessly partisan efforts of this House majority,” quipped Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI).

The Senate is expected to consider a welfare reauthorization bill sometime this summer.

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