Senate Set To Consider Welfare-Reform Legislation
Washington--When the new legislative session opens later this month, the Senate is expected to turn its attention to welfare reform, an issue that produced deep divisions in the House as the previous session drew to a close last month.
After weeks of head-counting and vote-stalling by the House Democratic leadership, a $5-billion welfare bill stressing education and job training was approved by a vote of 230 to 194 on Dec. 16.
But the fight over the bill left many Republicans and Southern Democrats dismayed over the costly budget addition in a year of desperate deficit-trimming.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, has a similar--but more modest--bill pending before the Finance Committee.
The House bill, labeled network, for National Education, Training, and Work Program, would require for the first time that states set up comprehensive job-training, education, and work programs designed to move low-income families with children off welfare rolls and onto payrolls.
To receive benefits, welfare parents with children age 3 or older would be required to participate in the training and work programs. States would furnish child care.
Specifically, network programs would require that states provide participants with a high-school education or its equivalent; basic remedial education, including bilingual education if needed; and specialized advanced education where appropriate.
In addition, states would be asked to provide participants with job-readiness and job-search assistance. They would be able to add a work-supplement program if they desired.
The bill would also authorize $50- million for demonstration projects testing in-home, early-childhood-development programs that stress family efforts to help children with reading, writing, and speaking skills.
Another $50 million would be authorized for projects to test "financial incentives and interdisciplinary approaches to reducing school dropouts, encouraging skill development, and avoiding welfare dependency."
In addition to its training and education programs, the bill calls for improvements in the food-stamp program, tightened child-support rules, and increased benefit levels.
The bill's high pricetag led to heated opposition from fiscal conservatives during the lengthy deliberations on its provisions. In some preliminary votes, as many as 32 Southern Democrats broke ranks to block the bill's passage. And only intensive maneuvering by the bill's floor manager, Representative Thomas J. Downey, Democrat of New York, gained its relatively narrow passage.
Mr. Moynihan's bill may provide the Senate with a more palatable alternative. Because its benefit increases are substantially smaller than the House version's, its total cost over five years is estimated to be $2.3 billion.
The Senate is expected to hold final hearings on the bill in February.