- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

"Good jobs must be the aim of welfare reform," President Bush said in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.
"As we reauthorize these important reforms, we must always remember that the goal is to reduce dependency on government and offer every American the dignity of a job," he added.
These two sentences, plus two other plans floated in recent weeks, were about all the Bush administration had to say about the 1996 law, which led to the most sweeping changes in the nation's welfare system since the 1960s and was due for re-enactment this year.
The near-silence which is deliberate, said administration sources has frustrated advocates, who have waited five years to move their agendas. Moreover, the two plans the administration has floated have sent mixed signals: The proposal to reopen the food-stamp program to legal immigrants has dismayed conservatives and delighted liberals, while the plan to create a $100 million program to promote marriage has drawn the reverse reaction.
Word about welfare plans is scant, even on Capitol Hill. "What I'm hearing is that we won't have any [details] until we have our first series of budget briefings" Feb. 4, a Republican House aide said yesterday.
Meanwhile, House Democrats and an influential Democratic think tank have laid out their wish lists for welfare reform.
The 1996 welfare law encouraged personal responsibility, said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources.
"We now need to turn our attention to reducing poverty levels and promoting advancement in the work force," he said last week when he introduced a welfare-reform bill co-sponsored by all his Democratic colleagues on the subcommittee.
The Cardin bill, which could boost welfare costs by $35 billion over five years, would:
Gradually increase the annual $16.5 billion Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant to $18.7 billion by 2007.
Make "reducing poverty" a purpose of the law and create an annual $150 million bonus for states that reduce their numbers of children in poverty.
Increase child care funding by $11.25 billion.
Convert the annual $100 million bonus that rewards states for lowering unwed births to a "family formation fund" that promotes two-parent families, reduces teen pregnancy and reconnects noncustodial parents and their children.
Reopen TANF and the Supplemental Security Income cash welfare program to poor, elderly and disabled legal immigrants.
Allow states to "stop the clock" on the federal five-year time limit for some welfare recipients who work.
Allow states to count education and training as work.
The Cardin bill mirrors many proposals by the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), a Democratic think tank that has issued a paper on "finishing the welfare revolution."
Both agree, for instance, on boosting child care funds, restoring benefits to legal immigrants, rewarding states for reducing poverty and funding teen-pregnancy prevention programs.
They differ, though, on tinkering with the five-year time limit and allowing education to count as work.
"Congress should resist attempts to relax TANF's time limits and work requirements," wrote PPI officials Will Marshall and Anne Kim. They urged Congress to require states to put "at least 70 percent" of their welfare recipients to work, instead of the current 50 percent.

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