- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Congressional Democrats yesterday questioned the Bush administration's plans to require longer workweeks from more welfare recipients without offering additional money for child care.
The White House's five-year welfare plan, released in February, requires states to put 50 percent to 70 percent of their welfare recipients into "constructive activities" 40 hours a week.
The law currently requires that up to half of a state's caseload be in work-related activities 30 or 35 hours a week.
Increasing work "without any new child-care funding causes me to be concerned," said Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which yesterday heard testimony from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
Requiring single welfare mothers to work 40 hours a week is "pretty unbelievable," said Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, adding that the state already can't meet its child care needs.
Many Americans who aren't on welfare work less than 40 hours a week, said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, noting workers in his state typically spend between 34 hours and 37.5 hours a week on the job.
The Bush plan which maintains $4.8 billion in child care funds, plus states' access to billions of dollars in other federal programs "is adequate funding for child care," said Mr. Thompson, who was a leader in welfare reform as governor of Wisconsin.
Two years from now there might be more money for child care, Mr. Thompson said, but right now the proposal reflects the economic constraints of a nation that is fighting a war and building up its homeland defense. Moreover, he said, there are only half as many families on welfare now as in 1996, when federal child care funds were doubled.
As for the work rules, the Bush plan would require recipients to be in work or work-related activities two days a week, with the other three days spent in education, training, substance-abuse treatment or other self-sufficiency programs, the secretary said.
The reason for this is that 58 percent of adult welfare recipients were doing "zero" hours of work activities a week in 1999, according to HHS figures.
This unintended consequence came about because of the law's "caseload-reduction credit," which allowed states to reduce their work-participation rates as their welfare rolls declined.
As caseloads fell dramatically, many states ended up being required to put little or none of their caseload to work. The Bush plan fixes this loophole by "putting back in work-participation rates and phasing out the credit," Mr. Thompson said.
However, Senate Democrats said the Bush plan still undermined state flexibility. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, said with her state's recession-related job losses, "it could be hard" to meet higher work-participation rates.
Mr. Thompson fielded similar questions from members of the House Ways and Means Committee later in the day and promised members of both committees he would work with them on contested issues.
Mr. Thompson noted the Bush administration supports paying minimum wage to welfare recipients who work or perform community service. Recent news reports to the contrary were "absolutely incorrect," he said.


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