- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

Education, training and services should be the focus of the next round of welfare reform, 19 Senate Democrats have said in a letter to the Senate Finance Committee.
The finance committee, led by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, is expected to introduce a welfare-reform bill soon after Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess.
The 1996 welfare law expires in September and must be reauthorized this year. Since August 1996, welfare rolls have dropped from 12.2 million people to 5.2 million.
The House recently passed a welfare-reform bill that reflects many proposals from the Bush administration. Chief among them is a requirement that welfare recipients stay busy 40 hours a week three days of actual work and two days in constructive activities such as education or training.
The welfare action has moved to the Senate, and last week the 19 Democrats sent a letter to Senate Finance leaders asking for more money for welfare services and child care, and for provisions to let recipients count two to four years of school as work, reopen welfare to legal immigrants and allow groups that teach about contraception to get abstinence-education funds.
"We have to improve access to education and training, make real investments in quality child care and move current and former welfare recipients into living-wage jobs," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat and one of the letter signers.
If child-care funds rose by $11.2 billion over five years, it would mean that 1 million children a year could get care, Mr. Wellstone said at a press conference with Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Patty Murray of Washington, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Jon Corzine of New Jersey.
"Five years after the welfare bill was signed, poverty in America remains a national disgrace," said Mr. Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over some welfare programs.
The Bush administration and House Republicans seem to be "more interested in unpaid, dead-end 'workfare' jobs that displace union workers," Mr. Kennedy added. "What we need are real, living-wage jobs that help families make ends meet."
This was the latest group of senators to weigh in on welfare reform. A group of Democratic senators, led by Evan Bayh of Indiana, Thomas Carper of Delaware and Bob Graham of Florida, recently introduced a welfare bill that called for 40 hours of activities a week and $8 billion more for child care.
A group of Senate Finance Committee members has also issued a welfare proposal recommending a 30-hour week with 24 hours of work, plus more money for child care.
Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson told an audience at the Heritage Foundation that the House welfare bill has "the right balance" of work and school.
"The heart of our program is still work," he said. But the House bill also provides increased flexibility for states to improve their programs and help welfare recipients succeed on the job.
Mr. Thompson urged the Senate to "act with the same courage as we did back in 1996," and not take "two steps forward and one step back" by de-emphasizing work.
The secretary noted that new data showed that the nation's welfare caseload continued to decline last fall.
"Despite the soft economy and the attacks of September 11, the national welfare caseload did not increase," he said. "This is a testimony to the effectiveness of the [welfare] program and, more importantly, to the resiliency of the American people themselves."
HHS figures, released May 21, show that the number of welfare recipients fell 1 percent from 5.3 million in September to 5.2 million by the end of December.
Thirty-four states and the District saw some growth in caseloads: Virginia's caseload rose 3.2 percent from 65,103 to 67,156 recipients, Maryland's rose 5 percent from 66,545 to 69,852 recipients, and the District's rose 1.1 percent from 43,048 to 43,514 recipients.
However, New York saw a 20 percent drop in its welfare caseload, falling from 554,702 recipients in September to 443,344 recipients by December.


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