- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

A "conceptual" Senate welfare bill, designed to find the middle ground in many contentious issues in welfare reform, has some Republican support, but is viewed as "significantly to the left" by others.
Outlines of the measure, called the Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids Act of 2002, circulated Monday. "It's not a bill with a number yet," a Senate aide said yesterday. "This is kind of a conceptual markup."
The measure, scheduled to be worked on today in the Senate Finance Committee, led by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, would:
Require welfare recipients to be in work-related activities for 30 hours, as now required, but spend at least 24 hours of that time working, instead of 20.
Allow going to school to count as work for as long as 24 months, instead of 12 months.
Boost mandatory child care funds by $5.5 billion over five years.
Allow states to use federal welfare funds for legal immigrants.
End a state caseload-reduction credit and replace it with an employment credit states can earn by putting former recipients to work. States with high employment credits are required to meet lower work-participation rates.
Create a $200 million grant program to allow states to promote marriage, reduce teen pregnancy and pay for support services to poor families.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, backs the measure, which draws heavily from an earlier proposal by six members of the Finance Committee. "He sees it as a compromise that represents good public policy," an aide said.
However, other committee members, such as Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Don Nickles of Oklahoma, are among those developing amendments for the meeting today.
Mr. Nickles is planning to offer a "full substitute" that reflects the Bush administration's positions and is similar to a Republican bill introduced last week by Sens. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an aide said.
A Republican aide in the House said the Baucus measure was disappointing. "This is significantly to the left, and in some ways, it's left of current law, which is not a good starting point," the aide said, adding that it looks like it will cost "at least $9 billion more" than current law does.
But advocates such as James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, are pleased that a Senate welfare debate is beginning. "We strongly support state flexibility," said Mr. Wagoner, who said it's likely that an amendment offered today would open the Title V abstinence-only education grant program to "abstinence-plus" programs.

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