- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

House Republican leaders yesterday introduced welfare-reform legislation that maintains historically high funding levels but intensifies work requirements for those on public assistance.
Under the landmark 1996 welfare-reform law, some 7 million people have left the welfare rolls for work, and many are "living a much better life," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.
Welfare reform's new goal must be to spur states and welfare recipients to even greater levels of self-sufficiency, through employment, work-related services, child-support reform and counseling about healthy family relationships, Republican leaders said.
However, welfare reform shouldn't move backward, said House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Texas Republican.
"We have to guard against those who want to erode the progress that we've made for the poor," especially regarding the promoting of strong families and a strong work ethic, he said.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said the Republican's new work rules would "put states into a straitjacket" and prevent them from tailoring their programs to recipients' needs.
"In 1996, the states were our partners in reforming welfare, but this year they haven't been given a seat at the table," said Mr. Cardin, who introduced a welfare-reform bill earlier this year.
Spokesmen for the National Governor's Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures are scheduled to be among 46 speakers at a marathon hearing today before the House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources, led by Rep. Wally Herger, California Republican.
Mr. Herger's committee wrote one of two virtually similar welfare-reform bills introduced yesterday. The House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on 21st-century competitiveness, led by Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, issued the other bill.
In addition, Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and member of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, introduced legislation to reauthorize the welfare-reform law's $50 million-a-year abstinence education grant program as well as the law's transitional Medicaid health coverage for families leaving welfare.
Highlights of the House welfare reform are its continued funding of $16.5 billion a year for welfare programs and $4.8 billion a year for child care, plus greater access to funds in other programs. States, for instance, would be able to use up to 50 percent of their welfare funds for child care, instead of the current 30 percent.
The House bill would require states to move 70 percent of their recipients into 40-hour work weeks including 24 hours of actual work activities for 48 weeks a year, by 2007. Recipients would have four weeks for sick time and holidays.
The bill authorizes a new $20 million-a-year grant program for responsible fatherhood programs, allows states $300 million to promote marriage, and creates an unprecedented "superwaiver" process to allow states to bend the rules of multiple federal programs as they redesign their welfare services.
Meanwhile, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing yesterday, Govs. John Engler, Republican of Michigan, and Howard Dean, Democrat of Vermont, stressed the governors' desire for program flexibility, including work rules. They also asked for inflation-linked increases in welfare funding.


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