- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

The nation's governors have signaled support for the Bush administration's new welfare "superwaiver," but they remain worried about losing flexibility elsewhere in the reform.
The provision which Republicans have recently renamed "State Flex" would give states an unprecedented opportunity to submit a single application to amend federal education, labor, nutrition, housing and child-care programs to fit their welfare needs.
The measure is in the welfare bill that Republicans plan to bring to a floor vote Wednesday.
In a welfare speech in Ohio on Friday, President Bush praised the superwaiver provision as a much-needed way to give states "the freedom to innovate and create programs that meet local needs."
"We believe that superwaivers, in combination with existing waivers and state flexibility, can provide an important new tool" in welfare reform, Michigan Gov. John Engler, chairman of the National Governors Association (NGA), said in a May 1 letter to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.
However, Congress should not reduce state flexibility "in the areas of work and sanction policies," said Mr. Engler and his co-authors Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton, Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist and Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon. The governors did not elaborate on their concerns.
House Republicans are trying to prod states to ensure that at least half of their welfare parents spend 24 hours a week in work activities and 16 hours a week in constructive activities, instead of the current 20 hours and 10 hours, respectively.
The bill also fixes a loophole in current law that has allowed many states to end up with virtually no work participation requirements. As a result of this loophole, 58 percent of welfare parents did "zero" hours of work activities in 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services said earlier this year.
In a Capitol Hill press conference Friday, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said the Republican welfare bill "takes us backwards."
The 40-hour-a-week rule will put states "in a straitjacket" and force them to shift funds from child care, transportation and job training to "makeshift" jobs, which is worse than current law, said Mr. Dean, a Democrat. "We need to leave well enough alone."
However, earlier in the week, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, leader of the Republican governors, said he believed governors will be able to iron out their differences with Congress.
"We're pretty much agreed on the big-picture items," Mr. Huckabee told reporters in NGA offices. Even the new 40-hour-a-week work proposal is "not a deal killer," he said.
Governors want the option to use federal welfare funds for legal immigrants, more money for child care and an increase for inflation in the annual $16.5 billion welfare grant, Mr. Huckabee said.
Many states will also welcome the new $300 million for marriage-education programs, he said. "Personal responsibility ought to encompass all areas of our life."
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, said House Democrats are finishing their welfare bill, which will draw from several bills, including one by Mr. Cardin.


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