- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday approved a bipartisan welfare reform bill that includes an extra $6 billion for child care.

The bill represented substantial compromises by Republican and Democratic members, Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said yesterday at a session to review the bill.

Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and ranking member, “compromised on the issue of federal funding for healthy marriage promotion activities,” Mr. Grassley said. “I’ve compromised on extending the types of activities that can count towards the work requirement.”

The amount of new funding for child care — initially set for $1 billion over five years — was boosted to $6 billion over five years at the behest of Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican.

Getting bipartisan agreement for such a sum was a “difficult hurdle,” Mr. Grassley said.

Some senators think the $4.8 billion-per-year federal child care programs are woefully underfunded and that $6 billion more over five years is still not enough.

Others, such as Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, say child care funds, which are aimed at families on welfare or exiting welfare, are ample, especially now that welfare rolls have fallen by 60 percent — from 4.4 million families in 1996 to 1.9 million families as of June. “With child care, how much is enough?” Mr. Lott asked.

Senators are likely to revisit the child care debate when the Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone (PRIDE) bill is brought to the Senate floor.

The $50 million-per-year Title V abstinence education grant program is also likely to be debated. Its definitions of abstinence “are prescriptive and limited, in my view,” Mr. Baucus said. “We need to make those funds more flexible for the states to determine what kind of [sex] education makes sense,” he said, adding that he intended to address the abstinence issue on the Senate floor.

The landmark 1996 welfare reform law expired in September 2002 and has been extended nine times. Yesterday’s bill includes another extension, to Sept. 30.

The House, which passed welfare reform bills in 2002 and 2003, has begun work on its welfare bill.

The PRIDE bill, similar to the committee’s 2003 bill, maintains the $16.5 billion-per-year funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. It requires more hours of work from many TANF recipients, but allows states to claim credit for more of those hours. It also allows TANF recipients to count work credit for college classes, literacy programs, substance-abuse counseling, financial literacy training and marriage education.

The bill also calls for up to $300 million for pro-marriage activities and research, $50 million for responsible fatherhood programs, $20 million for domestic violence programs and $5 million for a national teen pregnancy resource center.

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