- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday passed a welfare-reform bill that revises work rules and promotes marriage, but punts on the hotly debated issue of child-care funding.

“My intention is to defer the issue of child care to the floor, where the whole Senate can work its will,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Finance Committee.

In anticipation of a larger debate — and probably more funding for child care — the Finance bill raises mandatory child care funding modestly, from $2.7 billion to $2.9 billion a year.

That raise is inadequate, as states need more money to pay child care costs for poor families, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, yesterday at a Finance Committee meeting on the bill.

Mr. Bingaman offered an amendment boosting child-care funding to $11.2 billion over five years, but it was defeated.

The Finance bill, like the House welfare bill that passed early this year, allocates up to $300 million annually for activities that promote relationship skills and good marriages.

“I see healthy marriages as having important economic implications for children,” Mr. Grassley said.

Finance Committee ranking member Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, who voted against the bill, said he didn’t believe Congress should use government funding to “delve into” people’s personal relationships.

Mr. Baucus also criticized the bill for its “superwaiver” provision, which would allow 10 states to streamline federal rules governing welfare, child care and social-services block grants. The superwaiver would give the executive branch “unprecedented” power to rewrite federal laws, Mr. Baucus said.

The superwaiver is promoted by the Bush administration — especially Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who is known for pioneering welfare-reform efforts in Wisconsin — to allow states to coordinate social services. Under current law, conflicting federal rules allow families to be eligible for some programs, but not others.

The Finance bill increases the minimum work requirement for single welfare parents with young children from 20 to 24 hours a week, and requires 30 or more hours a week for other parents.

It expands the kinds of activities that can be counted as work and proposes a new system to give states at least partial credit for virtually all welfare families they help move into the work force.

The bill allocates $75 million a year for activities to promote responsible fatherhood. It also changes child-support rules to allow more money to go to custodial parents.

The Finance welfare bill is intended to renew the landmark 1996 welfare law, which expired last September and has been temporarily continued since. Senate aides said yesterday that despite a crowded Senate calendar, they hoped the chamber would pass welfare reform this year.



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