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House Passes a Welfare Bill With Stricter Rules on Work

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House Passes a Welfare Bill With Stricter Rules on Work




WASHINGTON, May 16 — The House voted today to impose stricter work requirements on welfare recipients as part of a Republican plan to extend the change in social policy brought about by the 1996 welfare law.


The measure, which closely follows recommendations from President Bush, now goes to the Senate, where some of its more restrictive provisions are likely to be modified. Senators are working on a bipartisan centrist bill.


The House vote, 229 to 197, was largely along party lines. Only 14 Democrats voted for it, and only 4 Republicans voted against it.


The vote followed two days of debate that was full of political passion, but less raucous and less ideological than fights over the original measure in 1995 and 1996.


Just before passing the Republican bill today, the House voted 222 to 198 against a Democratic alternative that would have provided more money for child care and would have restored welfare benefits to legal immigrants who have not become citizens.


Representative Heather A. Wilson, Republican of New Mexico, spoke for her party when she declared, "This is a great day for America, a great celebration of all we've achieved for America's children."


Tommy G. Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said, "The House should be commended for its bold and courageous vote to take the next step of welfare reform." Mr. Bush said the House bill took a "compassionate approach" that would provide hope, dignity and independence for millions of Americans.


Democrats denounced the Republican bill as harsh and mean-spirited. They said its work requirements were unrealistic. They said it tied the hands of state officials and curtailed access to education and training for welfare recipients.


But Republicans had a potent political comeback.


"The Democrats were wrong in 1996, and we were right," said Representative Bill Thomas, Republican of California, who repeatedly recalled the dire predictions Democrats made six years ago.


A snag that delayed passage of the bill on Wednesday was resolved today with a compromise allowing states to seek exemptions from certain laws and rules that govern welfare, food stamps, public housing, job training, child care and other programs for low-income people. Under such waivers, states could, with federal permission, establish common rules for the different programs, but could not shift money from one federal program to another.


Since 1996, the number of people on welfare has dropped by more than half, to 5.3 million, and the proportion of children in poverty has declined to the lowest level in more than two decades.


Republicans discounted the Democratic criticism today, noting that much of it came from people who voted against the 1996 law.


In drafting their bill, House Republicans did not consult Democrats. White House officials said they knew they would eventually have to negotiate compromises with Democrats who control the Senate.


As the House finished debate today, Representative Sander M. Levin, Democratic of Michigan, said, "Fortunately there is a Senate to correct the hopelessly partisan efforts" of the Republican majority in the House.


Under the House Republican bill, states would get $16.5 billion a year, the same as under current law, for the main federal welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The Democratic proposal would have allowed increases for inflation, providing $6 billion extra in the next five years.


President Bush wanted to continue child care spending at the current level, $4.8 billion a year, for a total of $24 billion over five years. House Republicans added $2 billion to the total. Democrats wanted to add $11 billion.


The bill passed today would increase work requirements in two ways. By 2007, at least 70 percent of a state's adult welfare recipients would have to be engaged in work or job preparation activities, up from 50 percent required under current law. In addition, welfare recipients would have to participate in supervised activities for 40 hours a week, including at least 24 hours of actual work. The comparable figures under current law are 30 hours and 20 hours.


In practice, welfare recipients would have to work three days a week in regular jobs or government-created workfare positions. The other two days could be spent in education, training, drug treatment or other activities approved by the state.


Democrats said the Republican bill did not give states enough money to provide day care to people who would be required to work. But a parade of Republican women vouched for the merits of the bill, deflecting the Democratic criticism.


Kay Granger, Republican of Texas, said, "Talking as a single parent myself, I know that quality child care is absolutely necessary."


Mrs. Wilson of New Mexico said: "There are 2.3 million fewer children in poverty today because their moms have gotten good jobs. Federal funding for child care has tripled over the last five years, and that's at the same time that welfare caseloads have been cut in half. So there's more money per child."


The 1996 law eliminated a 60-year-old federal guarantee of cash assistance for the nation's poorest children and gave each state a lump sum of federal money, with vast discretion to run its own welfare program.


Under the House Republican bill — in addition to the money specifically earmarked for child care — a state could use as much as 50 percent of its welfare block grant for child care, up from the 30 percent allowed under current law.


But that was not enough for Democrats.


Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, Democrat of New York, asked: "How can a Congress that speaks so eloquently of family values pass legislation that clearly threatens our neediest families? By increasing work requirements, this bill forces parents to be away from their children for longer hours without providing adequate money for day care."


Moreover, Democrats said the Republican bill would encourage states to create "make work" jobs that would leave welfare recipients below the poverty level.


Representative Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat who was on public assistance herself 35 years ago, said, "The worst thing about taking women and their families from welfare to work is that they have gone from welfare to poverty, and we are keeping those families in poverty" under the Republican bill.


Under the measure, the government would provide up to $300 million a year to promote "healthy marriage" through advertising campaigns, high school courses and premarital counseling. The bill also provides millions of dollars to promote sexual abstinence and "responsible fatherhood."


Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, defended the increase in work requirements.


While welfare caseloads have declined substantially since 1996, there is room for improvement, Mr. Boehner said. "Fifty-eight percent of welfare recipients still are not engaged in any work-related activity," he said.


Moderate Republicans like Michael N. Castle of Delaware joined conservatives in backing the party's bill today. "I totally support this legislation," said Mr. Castle, a former governor. "I believe it will work. Perhaps some things need to be addressed, and I think they will be in the Senate."


Mr. Boehner rejected criticism from Democrats who said the bill would reduce access to education and training for welfare recipients.


"Under our bill," Mr. Boehner said, "welfare recipients can attend school full time for four months in any two-year period. They can spend up to 16 hours each week getting education and training to help further their ability to obtain gainful employment."


But Senator John B. Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana, an architect of the bipartisan Senate bill, said the House measure would force poor women to seek jobs with no assurance of child care. The Senate bill would increase work requirements, but would give states more freedom to decide what counts as work.


Representative Ron Kind, Democrat of Wisconsin, said, "The Republican bill is very long on conservatism and very short on compassion."


The House Democratic substitute would have increased the work requirements in current law, but would have given states more latitude to count vocational education as work.


The Republicans who voted against the bill were John Hostettler and Brian Kerns of Indiana, Constance A. Morella of Maryland, and Ron Paul of Texas.


The Democrats voting for it were Robert E. Cramer of Alaska, Allen Boyd of Florida, David Phelps of Illinois, Ken Lucas of Kentucky, James A. Barcia of Michigan, Bill Luther and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Ronnie Shows and Gene Taylor of Mississippi, Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, David Wu of Oregon, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, and Chet Edwards and Ralph M. Hall of Texas.

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Guest Are2

just what welfare moms need....more rules

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