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Archive for Friday, February 14, 2003

House approves stricter welfare bill

February 14, 2003

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— Saying they hope to build on the success of the 1996 welfare overhaul, House lawmakers passed a measure Thursday that would require more recipients to find jobs and work longer hours.

The bill, which passed 230-192 in the Republican-controlled House, is similar to one approved last year. That measure, however, died in the Senate.

The House rejected two Democratic welfare measures, including one proposed by Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., that would provide more money for child care, allow states to provide more education and training, and require recipients to work fewer hours than proposed in the Republican measure.

A more intense battle is expected in the Senate, where lawmakers are likely to debate child-care funding, work requirements and controversial issues such as whether to fund programs to promote marriage and sexual abstinence and to provide benefits for legal immigrants. Unlike last year, Republicans now control the Senate.

The House bill, modeled after President Bush's proposal, would require recipients to work 40 hours a week, up from 30 hours. It would also require states to increase from 50 percent to 70 percent within five years the number of recipients who must be working.

The measure sets aside $4.8 billion annually for child care and $16.6 billion in block grants. Another $300 million a year would be used to promote marriage and $50 million for abstinence-only programs.

Republicans argue that work is the path out of poverty and that nearly 60 percent of recipients aren't working.

"If you don't work, you're isolated from the real world," said Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn. "Work is important. It does help us move forward."

Citing the slumping economy and states' financial crises, Democrats said the Republican bill would only further burden states. "They can't afford an unfunded mandate," Cardin said. "It's a step backward."

Federal officials released Thursday figures showing a 6 percent drop in welfare cases to just under 5 million since last year. That represents a nearly 60 percent decline in cases since the 1996 welfare law was enacted.

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