- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

The House yesterday passed its second round of welfare reform after a vigorous but mostly civil debate over funding, work rules and abstinence education.

The vote was 229-197. Fourteen Democrats and one independent voted with Republicans in support of the bill. Four Republicans including Rep. Constance A. Morella of Maryland and one independent voted against the measure. Nine members didn't vote.

A Democratic welfare bill was defeated 222-198.

Republicans, led by House Ways and Means Committee leaders Bill Thomas and Wally Herger, both California Republicans, cast their Personal Responsibility, Work and Family Promotion Act of 2002 as "the next step" in welfare reform.

The 1996 law was a success, and "we set out to build on that success," said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which also had jurisdiction over the bill.

The Republican bill reflected many of the ideas proposed by the Bush administration earlier this year, such as expanding the required workweek from 30 to 40 hours, with a minimum of 24 hours in a regular job or community-service position.

The other 16 hours could be spent on education, substance-abuse treatment and other programs.

Increasing weekly work hours from 20 to 24 hours isn't that much, said Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican.

The second requirement that recipients spend 16 hours a week instead of 10 in education, training or other constructive activities is important because it gets people closer to a normal 40-hour work week, said Mrs. Johnson. "Now they'll have to plan how to use those 16 hours."

The Republican plan maintains the yearly $16.5 billion core funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program but adds $2 billion over five years to the $4.8 billion a year Child Care Development Fund.

The bill also has up to $300 million for states to use to promote healthy marriages and maintains a $50 million-a-year abstinence-education grant program.

Democrats criticized Republicans for pushing work over education and training, and underfunding child care. The Republican bill "doesn't reform welfare it deforms welfare," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat and a former welfare mother.

Democrats also criticized the Republican bill for its "unfunded mandates" or costly requirements that states have to pay for.

Increasing the work-participation rates to 40 hours a week will cost states between $8 billion and $11 billion over five years, according to a Congressional Budget Office report, said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and lead sponsor of the Democratic bill.

Each state faces huge unfunded mandates because the Republican bill doesn't pay for these new work requirements, Mr. Cardin said.

Republicans countered that there was plenty of money in the welfare programs because caseloads have dropped from 12 million people to around 5 million. In 1996, states had an average of $6,907 in welfare and child care funds to spend on each welfare family, said Rep. Jim McCrery, Louisiana Republican. Under the Republican bill, "they will have almost $16,000 for each family," he said, adding, "How can you say there's not enough money?"

Democrats rejected this argument, saying that states are giving services to hundreds of thousands of non-TANF families who are not counted in the TANF caseload.

Mr. Thomas then noted that the Democrats had an unfunded mandate of their own. The Democratic bill proposed increasing TANF funds each year for inflation, so that it would rise to $18.7 billion a year by 2007.

States, however, would have to match that increase, which would be hard on their budgets and constitute an unfunded mandate, said Mr. Thomas, adding that the cost to California would be $1 billion.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the abstinence-education program provided an important option to states, since every one but California competes for the money, even though it has to be matched by state funds.

However, Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, argued against the program, saying that it was "dangerous" to teach children only about sexual abstinence.

Rep. John Sullivan, Oklahoma Republican, praised the $300 million for marriage promotion as genuinely compassionate for children and families.

But Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, criticized the bill's attempt to promote marriage. Rather than funding marriage education, Mrs. Waters said, "Let's give our welfare recipients a chance to be independent."

Unlike in 1995, yesterday's debate on welfare reform didn't devolve to jeers or hissing.

But Republicans frequently reminded Democrats about how their gloomy predictions on revamping the welfare system didn't come true.

Some Democrats did not hesitate to respond in kind.

For instance, Rep. Marge Roukema, New Jersey Republican, said that she viewed the Republican bill as a form of "tough love."

"Sounds more like tough luck to me," said Rep. Major R. Owens, New York Democrat.

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