- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

A bipartisan paper on welfare reform released by six members of the pivotal Senate Finance Committee could emerge as the basis for a deal in this year's debate on the reauthorization of the 1996 law.
"If we have Republicans and Democrats in a solid Finance Committee supporting this effort, it gives us a great deal of strength," said Sen. John B. Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, along with Democratic Sens. John D. Rockfeller IV of West Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Republican Sens. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, and independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont in a paper released last week..
Mr. Breaux and his colleagues say they support the Bush administration in key areas of welfare reform, such as requiring more work hours a week from recipients.
They also support Democratic proposals of rewarding states for employing people, counting vocational education as work, reopening the federal cash welfare program to legal immigrants and boosting child care funding to a higher but as-yet-undetermined level.
Separately, nine Democratic senators have co-sponsored a bill they believe has the right mix of welfare rules.
The Work and Family Act bill would require 40-hour work-related weeks similar to Republican proposals, but would boost child care funding by $8 billion over five years, said Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Zell Miller of Georgia, Jean Carnahan of Missouri, Bob Graham of Florida, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida.
The landmark 1996 welfare-reform law, which was passed with bipartisan support and signed by President Clinton, must be reauthorized by this fall.
Welfare reform has been moving through the House and could come to a floor vote in the next few weeks. The Republican-led bill, which strongly resembles a Bush administration welfare proposal, has received little if any support from House Democrats.
The Senate Finance Committee is still working on its welfare bill, Democratic aides said last week.
The six Senate Finance Committee members' proposal would:
Require 24 hours a week of work from welfare recipients (instead of the current 20) and six hours of education and training activities (down from 10). This maintains a 30-hour week for recipients, but shifts the focus to work, aides said. In contrast, House Republicans raise work requirements to 24 hours a week and require 16 hours a week of supervised, productive or work-related activities, for a total of 40 hours a week.
Create a $100 million fund and $100 million grant program for family formation and healthy marriage activities. This is similar to the Republican approach, except funds could also go to teen-pregnancy prevention programs and domestic-violence prevention.
Change the state "caseload reduction credit" to an "employment credit." This means that instead of measuring (and rewarding) states for reducing their welfare caseloads, they are measured (and rewarded) for the number of recipients they place in good jobs. Democrats support this; Republicans say it's not enforceable.
Allow vocational education to count as work for up to two years. Democrats advocate this approach but Republicans reject it, saying that actual work or work-with-training are the proven ways to move recipients into the work force.
Allow states to give cash welfare to legal immigrants. Democrats support this measure, but Republicans oppose it.

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