- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Five years of national welfare reform have reduced the rolls to around 2 million families, Bush administration officials announced yesterday at a conference that reviewed the accomplishments and challenges of the 1996 law.
"Rarely in the history of the United States have we seen a law that had this kind of impact," Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, told the HHS-sponsored welfare conference.
The event continues today at Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson yesterday released data showing that the welfare rolls — which fell consistently during the last part of the 1990s — dropped again between September 2000 and March 2001.
During that period, the number of families on welfare shrank from 2.2 million to 2.1 million, Mr. Thompson said in a statement.
The rolls peaked in 1994 with 5 million families.
The secretary did not appear at the conference yesterday — he was called to testify before the Senate about stem-cell research — but may do so today, HHS aides said.
HHS officials also announced that Mr. Thompson and Mr. Horn would be holding several "listening and discussion sessions" around the country this fall to prepare for next year's reauthorization of the welfare reform law.
At yesterday's event, Mr. Horn reviewed the impact of the 1996 law, including the dramatic caseload decline.
In Wisconsin alone, he said, some counties now have no families on welfare and dozens of others have five or fewer families on welfare.
"Now if that is not success, I don't know what it is," Mr. Horn said, noting that nationally, employment of welfare recipients is up, and child hunger and child poverty rates are down.
Still, "lower caseloads do not mean the job is done," Mr. Horn said.
Needy families may have moved from welfare to work, but they need to retain their jobs and advance to higher positions and incomes, he said.
The assistant secretary — a child psychologist and former leader of the National Fatherhood Initiative — called for more aggressive efforts to rebuild healthy relationships between fathers and their families, and promote marriage.
"Some will argue that we still don't know enough" about promoting marriage, "and to some extent, they're right," he said.
"But we do know something" — that premarital education and couple-mentoring programs work, he said.
He added that officials should pursue the marriage issue "sensitively, thoughtfully and carefully" and not do such things as lower benefits to single-parent households, force anyone to marry, turn government offices into "a dating service" or trap anyone in an abusive relationship.
But now that states have lower caseloads, program flexibility and generous welfare funds, it's time to begin to experiment with ways to reduce dependency and support marriage, Mr. Horn said.
He went on to enumerate pro-marriage efforts by state officials in Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Nevada.
Other key speakers were HHS senior advisers Andrew Bush and Clarence Carter, the Rev. Herb Lusk of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy and Robin Read Brunelli of the National Foundation of Women Legislators.
Today's sessions will review welfare trends and the role of welfare reform in faith-based communities, child support and employment.

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