- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

Welfare reform marks its sixth anniversary today waiting for an opening on a busy Senate calendar, even though the landmark 1996 law expires in a month.

Many congressional aides say that instead of renewing the nation's largest social program for poor and needy families by Sept. 30, time-pressed lawmakers will simply pass a bill to continue it for another year.

This is what groups like the National Conference of State Legislatures have feared for months.

"If there is no reauthorization bill this year, the flexibility, innovation and quality of services states are able to provide are in serious jeopardy," said Oklahoma state Sen. Angela Monson, president of the group.

In June, when the Senate Finance Committee passed its welfare bill, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said he was committed "to getting this bill including strong child care provisions enacted this year."

When the Senate returns Sept. 3, however, it is expected to work on homeland security and pension reform, said a spokeswoman for Mr. Daschle. "And that's as far out as we have mapped for reporters," she said.

Senate aides expect these two issues, plus must-do appropriations bills, to consume most of the September Senate calendar, leaving only a few days to pass a welfare bill, which must then be finalized in a conference with the House.

If the law is not reauthorized by Sept. 30, the Bush administration and Congress may decide to extend the current welfare law for a few months or a year, and "take a crack at it after the fiscal year is up," said a staff member in a Democratic Senate office.

"Maybe it will be a priority for the next Congress," said a Republican Senate aide.

Scheduling issues aren't the only hang-ups in this go-round on welfare reform.

The Senate Finance bill passed with the support of three Republican senators but not Mr. Daschle, who wanted to see more child care funding. That and other things need to be fixed by the Senate as a whole, said several Democratic aides.

The finance bill calls for $5.5 billion in new child care funding, but the figure should be closer to $10 billion, said an aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, who added that the senator is planning to offer an amendment to that effect.

Other Democrats "were not thrilled" with the finance bill, according to their spokesmen. "It's not strong enough on work" and "not flexible enough" for states, said an aide to Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, who introduced his own welfare plan this year with several co-sponsors who are former governors.

Even bigger clashes are expected when members of the Senate and House try to combine their bills.

The chambers differ significantly on such things as the number of hours a week welfare recipients must be productive, the amount of classroom time that can count as work, how much should be spent on child care, and the best approach to promoting marriage in low-income communities.

To many in the House, the finance bill is "a bad twofer" with "weaker work rules and a lot more spending $10 billion more than our bill," said a Republican aide. Recently, the House Ways and Means Committee issued a list of the "top 101 ways" the Senate bill "undermines welfare reform."

However, liberal think tanks like the Center on Law and Social Policy and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have praised the finance bill for making "important improvements" to the welfare program and offering "a more balanced approach to the next phase of welfare reform than the House bill."

When the 1996 law passed, there were 12.2 million people on welfare. The caseload fell to 5.2 million people by December 2001, and was accompanied by significant increases in employment of single mothers and decreases in child poverty. New caseload numbers are expected in November, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

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