- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

President Bush today will propose revamping the nation's welfare system to require more of its recipients to find work.
Building on the 1996 welfare reform that a Republican-led Congress forced on President Clinton, Mr. Bush will propose that states increase from 50 percent to 70 percent the number of working welfare families by fiscal year 2007. It calls for 5 percent improvements annually over four years.
The president will announce his proposals at a church in the District with members of Congress. The welfare law is due to be renewed by lawmakers this year.
According to advance excerpts from the speech obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Bush will say the administration is "encouraged" by the results of the 1996 law but add, "We are not content."
"We ended welfare as we've known it yet this is not a post-poverty America," Mr. Bush plans to say. "Child poverty is still too high … too many families are strained and fragile and broken … too many Americans still have not found work and the purpose it brings. Because these needs continue, our work is not done. We will continue a determined assault on poverty in this country."
The administration's proposal also would allow legal immigrants to first receive food stamps five years after entry to the United States.
According to a separate fact sheet issued last night by the White House, the policy would "help to ensure adequate nutrition among children and other vulnerable immigrant groups, while continuing to require new entrants to support themselves and their families through work."
Mr. Clinton was criticized by liberals for signing the welfare reform law in 1996 in the midst of his campaign for re-election.
As outlined, Mr. Bush's plan would require welfare recipients to work 40 hours per week either at jobs or in programs "designed to help them achieve independence." The plan makes accommodations for parents with infants and people who need drug treatment or special job training.
Mr. Bush will say in today's speech, "My administration will do more than spend money," and he will outline four goals for his proposed changes.
"We will strengthen work requirements; we will promote strong families; we will give states more flexibility in welfare spending; and we will show compassion to those in need by restoring nutrition benefits for legal immigrants," Mr. Bush plans to say.
A senior House Republican leadership aide said the proposal to increase work requirements "will get a big 'amen' on Capitol Hill, at least on our side."
Conservatives in Congress have been urging the administration to expand the requirement for states to have at least 50 percent of their basic welfare recipients in some sort of jobs to other areas, such as public housing and food stamps.
"Work requirements enacted in the last welfare reform are fundamentally responsible for changing the system, moving thousands of families off of welfare into work," said a top House Republican aide.
The senior Republican leadership aide said the House will support Mr. Bush's proposal but wants to "keep an eye" on making sure that states do not substitute job-training and education programs to satisfy the law's work requirements.
The administration's budget keeps intact much of the current welfare law. It maintains the core $16.5 billion Temporary Aid to Needy Families grant to states and reinstates two funding streams that had expired a $319-million-a-year program for supplemental grants and a contingency fund worth $2 billion over five years.
Child care funding remains at $4.8 billion for the second year, as does state flexibility to use $4.7 billion in other programs for child care. Also maintained is the $50-million-a-year Title V abstinence-education grant.
Title V, plus other White House proposals to spend $73 million in a community-based abstinence-education program and $12 million in the Adolescent Family Life Program, amounts to $135 million for abstinence education. This funding fulfills a campaign pledge Mr. Bush made to create "parity" between funds for sex education and abstinence education, administration officials said.
Mr. Bush also is asking Congress to set aside about $100 million for experimental programs aimed at getting single mothers on welfare to marry. The plan directs up to $300 million for programs that encourage what the White House calls "healthy, stable marriages" and includes premarital education and counseling.
Yesterday, during a meeting with the nation's governors, Mr. Bush foreshadowed the themes of today's speech and told the governors he will protect local autonomy.
"The fundamental question is: Will there be enough local authority, enough flexibility at the local level to meet what I hope Congress passes, which are new work requirements?" Mr. Bush said. "See, I think work ought to be the core of welfare reform."
He added: "People need training or drug rehabilitation, but work ought to be the centerpiece of a good welfare law."
In last night's fact sheet, the White House said the proposal is aimed at improving the 1996 law "by making welfare even more focused on the well-being of children and supportive of families."
The White House said the 1996 law "has been one of the greatest public policy successes in decades." It said that since then:
Welfare dependency has plummeted, with the number of individuals receiving cash assistance dropping by 56 percent.
More single mothers than ever have become employed.
Child poverty rates are at their lowest level since 1978, and poverty rates for black children and children in families headed by females are at their lowest level ever.

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