- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

The expected Senate debate on welfare reform will turn on differing philosophical approaches to solving poverty: Should the nation push marriage and work or education and work-support services?
The House welfare bill takes the work-and-marriage approach while a bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee focuses on education and services.
The full Senate has yet to work on its welfare bill, and differences between the House and Senate must be worked out in a conference to produce a bill to send to the White House. Time is growing short to accomplish all this, as the 1996 welfare law expires Sept. 30.
While there are many areas of agreement in the landmark reform, the two chambers have fundamentally different ideas about its second phase.
Liberals and many Democrats believe that education especially a college degree plus generous job-support services are the obvious recipe to move poor families to self-sufficiency.
"The way to achieve the real purpose of welfare is simple," says the National Organization for Women. "Congress needs to ensure that custodial parents of poor children have access to education, skills for jobs that pay a fair wage, and critical work supports like child care, health care, housing and transportation."
The Senate Finance bill agrees with this view and allows welfare recipients to count going to college as work for between two and six years. It also boosts child-care funding by $5.5 billion over five years and creates a $200 million-a-year "transitional jobs" program to offer "short-term subsidized" jobs to recipients.
An important study released in 2000 supports this approach: A controlled study of 14,000 welfare families found that families assigned to Minnesota's Family Investment Program, in which they received an extra $2,000 to $4,000 a year to support their work efforts, were more stable and had higher household income and, surprisingly, a higher marriage rate.
Conservatives and many Republicans, however, believe marriage education and more actual work are the way to go. The House bill reflects those concerns, allocating up to $300 million for pro-marriage activities and establishing a 40-hour "activity" week that includes at least three days of work.
Marriage is "more effective" than education in escaping poverty, the conservative Heritage Foundation says in a paper released this month that is based on a review of data in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
"Poverty levels of children raised by never-married mothers remain high even if the mother has a high school or college degree," said analysts Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson.
For instance, they said, if children are born to never-married mothers who are high school graduates, they will spend an average of 58 percent of their lives in poverty. If the mothers stay single but get college degrees, their children's life time in poverty is reduced to 28 percent.
If children are born to married mothers who are high school graduates, though, they are only likely to spend 7.8 percent of their lives in poverty. If their married mothers also get college degrees, the likelihood for child poverty drops to 2.1 percent.
Mr. Rector also argues that welfare recipients must increase their work hours. "We have found that, on average, the adults in poor families with children work between 800 and 1,000 hours a year," he said.
"As long as they work part-time, they are going to remain poor; I don't care what you do with their education level. But if you raise the rate of work to 2,000 hours a year, child poverty is cut in half."


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