- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

A welfare reform bill written by House Republicans reflects Bush administration proposals but builds in extra flexibility for states.
According to a summary released last night, the House Republican bill adds a four-week "cushion" for sick leave and holidays to the new requirement that welfare recipients work 40-hour workweeks.
It also allows states to gain annual "credits" for reducing their caseloads in the previous three years.
Full details of the bill will be released today by House leaders, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
The welfare issue, however, is becoming more partisan, as seen at a hearing yesterday before the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Democratic members energetically questioned Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson about why the Bush administration wanted to require welfare mothers to work 40 hours a week.
This is "a gross mistake," said Rep. Patsy T. Mink, Hawaii Democrat, who has introduced her own welfare-reform bill with 88 co-sponsors. Education and training is "the major way" to revitalize poor families, she said.
After thanking Mrs. Mink and many other members "for your passion," Mr. Thompson explained that the 40-hour workweek referred to a minimum of 24 hours in work or supervised work experience.
The remaining 16 hours a week can be used for constructive activities that the state deems will help welfare recipients become self-sufficient, said Mr. Thompson.
The 40-hour standard is important, he added, because it is the "normal workweek" for Americans.
Mr. Thompson's explanations did not satisfy Democrats, especially because the Bush administration didn't plan to increase a child care block-grant program.
As a former welfare mother, "the worst thing was having 13 different child care situations in 12 months," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat.
She asked where governors would find money for all the child care.
The proposed $4.8 billion for child care is the same amount states received in 1996, when they had 8 million children on welfare, said Mr. Thompson. Today, the rolls are cut in half and there are 4 million children on welfare.
"It seems to me if you have the [same amount] of money and half the caseload, you should be able to make ends meet," said Mr. Thompson, who as governor refocused Wisconsin's welfare program to work.
"I guess I would just disagree" with that explanation, said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat, who then asked Mr. Thompson about state waiting lists for child care.
"Some states don't have waiting lists," said Mr. Thompson.
"Well, God bless them," said Mr. Miller.
Wisconsin is one of the states without a waiting list, Mr. Thompson persisted.
"Well, we'll take you out of the mix," said Mr. Miller.


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