- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday voted to approve a welfare-reform bill that adds about $9 billion in new spending for services to welfare recipients.
New funding includes $5.5 billion over five years for child care, $33 million a year for "second-chance" maternity homes for unwed mothers and $25 million a year for work programs for parents who owe child support, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office.
The 1996 welfare-reform law successfully helped move millions of welfare recipients to work, but now "we have to focus more attention on the hardest cases," said Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and committee chairman.
The bill passed with support from Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Frank H. Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who voted by proxy, joined seven Republicans in voting against the bill.
An aide for Mr. Daschle said he voted against the bill, known as the Work, Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids Act of 2002, because it didn't have enough child care funds.
Dissenting Republicans said the bill is too far afield from the landmark law.
"We are actually retreating from the 1996 bill," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, adding that the bill's work requirements were "requirements in name only."
The Senate bill, like a House welfare bill passed in May, maintains the basic $16.5 billion-a-year welfare grant to states, requires states to put 50 percent to 70 percent of their caseloads to work and continues the $50 million-a-year abstinence-only education-grant program.
It differs in that it will require recipients to be in work-related activities 30 hours a week, with 24 hours dedicated to work, and allow up to two years of class time to count as work. The House bill, which reflects Bush administration proposals, sets a 40-hour week, with 24 hours dedicated to work and 16 hours dedicated to such things as education.
At yesterday's session, the committee passed an amendment to allow Medicaid to cover health care for legal-immigrant pregnant mothers and their children.
The committee also voted to create a $50 million-a-year program for "abstinence first" programs or programs that teach abstinence and birth control.
Other amendments, including ones to increase child care funds to $7 billion over five years and cover some medical costs for illegal immigrants, were turned aside.
"Do you want to kill this bill?" Mr. Hatch asked his colleagues at one point. "The worst thing we can do is load it up with spending that would guarantee its demise."
"I thought we would take the next step [in welfare reform] without a huge increase in the costs," said Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "I think this bill is way over what [President Bush] will sign."
Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, said he believed the Finance bill "will closely resemble any final welfare package this Congress could approve" because it has "real work requirements not just make-work and more education and training."

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