- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

A freshman Republican senator has introduced a welfare-reform bill that calls for $350 million for marriage promotion, signaling that neither welfare reform nor a push to promote two-parent families is going to languish in the Senate as it did last year.
Sen. Jim Talent, Missouri Republican, and eight Republican co-sponsors introduced a welfare bill Friday, the day after the House passed its welfare-reform bill.
The new bill, which has the support of Senate leadership and the Bush administration, "comes with the perspective that the best programs to get people out of poverty are work and marriage," Mr. Talent said yesterday from Missouri.
The Talent bill is similar to the House bill but raises the money for marriage promotion by $50 million to $350 million a year. The money, which can be used at the discretion of state governments, is designed to fund programs that teach marriage and relationship skills.
The Talent bill also makes it easier to access the marriage-promotion money by requiring only a 25 percent match from states, rather than the 50 percent match in the House bill.
With states struggling with tight budgets, "I don't want to make it more difficult for states" to get the money, said Mr. Talent, a former congressman who won election to the Senate in November.
The Senate's base welfare bill will be produced by the Senate Finance Committee. Recently, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and committee chairman, said welfare reform was a "high priority" and he expected to produce a bipartisan welfare bill "in the next few months."
Mr. Talent said yesterday he had discussed his bill with Mr. Grassley.
The upcoming finance bill will "be a good bill," Mr. Talent said, but "mine has features to work in."
"Legislation from a lot of different directions strengthens the process," he added.
Mr. Talent's extra money for marriage is likely to outrage feminist and anti-poverty advocates. Recently, Kathy Rodgers, president of the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, condemned the House bill for funding "coercive marriage" and on Valentine's Day, an Oakland, Calif., anti-poverty group held a ceremony featuring unhappy "welfare brides."
The 1996 welfare-reform law expired in September. It was supposed to be reauthorized last year but stalled in the Senate. Congress has extended it through March.
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson has released data that shows welfare caseloads fell for the sixth consecutive year.
"Many critics said that while welfare-to-work programs might operate successfully in a booming economy, these programs would fail in a less strong economy," said Wade F. Horn, HHS assistant secretary for children and families.
However, "between March 2001, when the recession began, and September 2002, caseloads declined 4 percent for families and 8 percent for recipients," Mr. Horn said.
During the last fiscal year, the number of families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fell 3.9 percent, to 2 million, HHS officials said. The number of people on the assistance also fell by 6.2 percent to 4.9 million.
Republicans have reacted sharply to claims by the Center for Law and Social Policy, a liberal think tank, that welfare rolls rose in recent months.
HHS data show that "welfare caseloads continue to decline, even as unemployment rates have risen," said Rep. Wally Herger, California Republican and one of the authors of the House welfare bill. "Groups that claim otherwise need to recheck the facts."

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