- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A group of Senate Republicans yesterday released a welfare-reform bill that reflects many Bush administration proposals, including a mandatory 40-hour work week for welfare recipients.

"This is the next step in welfare reform," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas, who is a lead sponsor of the bill with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Requiring welfare recipients to fulfill 40 hours a week of activity, instead of 30 hours a week, is the "right direction" for the next five years of welfare reform, said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who joined the senators at a Capitol Hill press event with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.

Work is "an essential ingredient" of welfare reform, he said. Full-scale education and training programs were tried under old welfare systems but achieved only limited results. The success of the 1996 welfare-reform law is due to its work requirements, added Mr. Thompson, because "you don't get out of poverty without working."

The next round of welfare reform should strengthen families and "nurture marriage," said Mr. Sessions, who noted that the Senate Republican bill would allow up to $300 million to go for marriage promotion.

The Hutchinson-Sessions bill, which was scheduled to be introduced late last night or early this morning, is similar to the House bill passed in May: Both would increase weekly work and education requirements, require states to put 50 percent and more of their caseloads to work, allow states to get "superwaivers" to change rules in multiple federal programs at the same time and increase child care spending by $2 billion.

Republican co-sponsors include Mr. Lott and Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Bill Frist of Tennessee and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are still working on their main welfare reform vehicle.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, has held several hearings on the issue, but it hasn't been easy to find even a Democratic consensus on welfare: Recently, a group of 22 Democratic senators, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, wrote a letter about their welfare priorities to their Finance Committee colleagues. Another group of Democratic senators, including five former governors, has introduced a welfare bill reflecting a different set of positions.

In addition, feminist, anti-poverty and other advocacy groups have been bombarding the Finance Committee with recommendations.

Welfare reform is a congressional item this year because the 1996 welfare law expires Sept. 30.

President Bush recently suggested that the issue might have to carry over to next year.

Mr. Thompson yesterday said that he believes a bipartisan bill can be achieved this year. Still, he said, if it comes down to a choice between "a bad bill" or a one-year carry-over commitment on welfare reform, the administration will take the latter.

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