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Committee Passes Welfare-Reform Bill

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WASHINGTON--The Senate Finance Committee last week approved a major welfare-reform bill that emphasizes education and job training as a means of reducing dependence on public assistance.

The bill would create a new jobs program for welfare recipients under which states could provide such services as high-school equivalency programs, literacy and English-as-a-second language instruction, skills training, work experience, and job-readiness and placement programs.

It would require participation in education and job training by all welfare recipients, with some exemptions for the elderly, the ill, or mothers with very young children.

Services would be targeted to teen-age parents without high-school diplomas, long-term aid recipients, and families with a parent lacking a diploma.

Although the original draft did not specifically require agencies to provide certain services, the bill approved last week mandates that basic education and skills training be among the programs offered.

The bill also was modified to require states to "guarantee,'' rather than "assure,'' that child care be made available for recipients. It also was changed to require the federal government to match state child-care expenses under the program at the local market rate.

To ease the transition from welfare to work, the bill would provide for subsidized child care for a period of nine months. Medicaid coverage would also be extended.

The measure would cost an estimated $2.8 billion over five years. Proponents say provisions calling for improved debt collection and the elimination of certain tax breaks would ensure that it would not add to the federal deficit.

The bill now goes to the full Senate. If passed, it must be reconciled with a similar, but more costly House measure.--RRW

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