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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Senate OKs $6 billion more for working-poor child care

March 31, 2004

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— Over White House objections, the Senate voted Tuesday for an additional $6 billion for child care for welfare recipients and the working poor as part of a bill to renew the landmark 1996 welfare reform law.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was among 31 Republicans who supported the increase, which passed 78-20 despite the Bush administration's contention that significant reductions in welfare rolls have freed up money for child care. House Republicans did not include it in the version of the legislation that passed the House last year.

The provision would send states $20.5 billion over five years in the form of block grants for programs for children up to 13 years of age. Its authors, Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said hundreds of thousands of children could lose child care without the extra money, which in turn could force thousands of low-income parents to give up their jobs.

State budget crises already have caused reductions in child-care budgets, Dodd said. "Virtually every state has pared back in one way or another their support for child care," Dodd said.

One opponent of the additional money, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said a $1 billion increase already built into the legislation was sufficient. "The idea that there isn't enough money out there for day care is a ruse," Santorum said. "What this is about is a social policy that people should be more and more dependent upon government."

Senate Republican leaders want to finish work on the legislation this week and allow House and Senate negotiators to work out differences between the bills. It is unclear whether Republicans in the House would accept the child care increase, but Snowe and Dodd said Tuesday's vote indicated the Senate probably would not support welfare legislation without more money.

First, though, the Senate's Republican leadership has to contend with Democratic demands that the Senate vote on several amendments dealing with workers' wages and benefits, including a proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $7. Republicans said the amendments were election-year grandstanding unrelated to welfare.

Republican senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts voted in favor of spending $6 billion more for child care for welfare recipients and the working poor.

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