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House To Pass Welfare Bill, Block Grants for Child Programs

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Over the strong protests of Democrats, the House was expected to pass a sweeping welfare-reform bill late last week that would transfer to the states control over programs serving millions of poor, disabled, and neglected children.

Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in floor debate that the bill, HR 1214, is built around three principles: "personal responsibility, work, and returning power over welfare to our states and communities, where the needy can be helped the most in the most efficient way."

Several Democratic amendments that sought to preserve federal controls over school-meals, child-care, and child-protection programs were barred by House Republican leaders from being brought to the floor for a vote.

And late last week, a united front of Democratic lawmakers failed to win approval of an amendment by Rep. Nathan Deal, D-Ga., that would have retained the existing structure of some programs and authorized more funding for education and job-training for adults on welfare. The House rejected the amendment on a 228-to-205 vote.

But less ambitious amendments were incorporated into the Republican bill, which would overhaul 40 federal programs, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children. It would replace school-meals programs with a block grant and overhaul the Supplemental Security Income program for disabled children. (See related story and related story )

The House approved an amendment by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., that would bar states from using money from programs in the bill to pay for abortion services for poor women.

It also adopted an amendment by Rep. James M. Talent, R-Mo., that would allow states to provide vouchers for diapers, clothes, and other services to unmarried teenage mothers. The proposed legislation would prohibit states from providing cash assistance to unwed mothers under age 18.

And the House approved an amendment by Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-Conn., that would increase the authorization level of the bill's child-care block grant--which would replace several categorical programs under the Republican plan--by $750 million over five years beginning in 1996.

Democrats have criticized the Republican bill, which would make welfare recipients enter a work program within two years or lose their benefits, for requiring welfare mothers to work. Critics say many of the mothers would be forced to leave their children at home alone.

"If we were going to require work standards, we had to have enough child care to balance it off," said an aide to Ms. Johnson.

Children at Risk

But children's advocates charge that the proposed legislation would still endanger poor children and their families.

"What had been a 20 percent reduction in child-care funding is now a 13 percent reduction," Mark Greenberg, a senior staff lawyer for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a liberal think tank, said last week. "There's a failure in the bill to face up to the fact that any substantial increase in [work] participation and training programs would increase the need for more child care."

The Clinton Administration claims that child-care funding would still drop enough under the plan, as compared with existing programs, to eliminate services for 300,000 children.

Over all, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Republican bill would save a total of $66 billion over five years.

"We are seeing a massive, multi-front assault on child protections that threaten to shred the entire federal safety net beneath children and their families," Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Washington-based Children's Defense Fund, said in a statement. "We need to take a clear message home to representatives and senators to pick on someone their own size."

The welfare issue now moves to the Senate, where observers predict that the House proposals will face more significant hurdles. One House Republican aide close to the process said last week: "I don't know what the changes in the Senate will be, but they'll be big."

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