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G.O.P. Senators Signal Desire To Retain School-Meals Programs

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Washington

Senate Republican leaders indicated last week that they may not include provisions in their welfare-reform bill that would convert the federal school-meals and child-nutrition programs into block grants, as its House counterpart would do.

The welfare bill that passed the House in March has been roundly condemned by Democrats and child advocates, who say removing the programs' funding guarantees would hurt poor children. The federal school-breakfast and -lunch programs now serve 39 million children a day. (See Education Week, 3/29/95.)

At a hearing on federal nutrition programs last week, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he was "inclined to retain child-nutrition programs at the federal level."

The agriculture panel has jurisdiction over those programs, while other committees will draft their own provisions.

Finance Bill

The Senate Finance Committee, which oversees the main welfare programs, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children, was expected to approve a bill late last week that would transfer control of most of the federal welfare programs to the states.

The House approved a similar welfare-reform bill in March, which would replace with block grants more than 40 federal programs serving millions of children and their families.

But the Finance Committee's plan--the proposed "family self-sufficiency act of 1995"--would impose fewer restrictions on how states use welfare funds.

Unlike the House bill, HR 4, the Finance Committee bill would not prohibit states from providing cash assistance to unwed mothers under 18. And additional children born to families on welfare would still be eligible for cash assistance under the Senate version.

Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee and the bill's sponsor, said that he wants to rid the welfare system of federal micromanagement, both liberal and conservative.

However, Senator Packwood's bill would preserve some existing federal welfare efforts as separate programs. The Senate bill retains a child-protection program as a federal entitlement, meaning that Congress must appropriate enough funding to serve all eligible children. In contrast, the House bill would replace federal programs protecting abused and neglected children with a block grant to the states.

In another departure from the House bill, the Finance Committee plan includes a modified version of an existing program that aims to help welfare recipients find jobs and requires states to offer child-care assistance to recipients who work.

Both bills would consolidate most federal child-care programs into a block grant.

But the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the federal child-care-development fund, was expected to propose preserving federal control of that program, which offers child-care assistance to the working poor. The panel was to vote on its section of the welfare bill late last week.

S.S.I. Restrictions

Like the House bill, the Finance Committee's bill would tighten eligibility requirements for children's benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program, which serves the disabled and the elderly. But while the House bill would severely limit the number of children who could receive cash payments under S.S.I., offering them access to services instead, the Finance Committee bill includes no such provision.

Both the Finance and Labor committees' welfare bills are expected to be sent to the Senate floor within the next two weeks.

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