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Senate Welfare Plan Includes Voc.-Ed. Block Grant

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Washington

A move by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., to incorporate a vocational-education bill into the Senate's proposed welfare-reform measure would allow states to divert education dollars into welfare programs, according to vocational-education advocates.

Criticism from both conservatives and moderates forced Senate leaders to pull the Finance Committee's original welfare bill from the floor Aug. 8, and the leadership unveiled a revised bill before Congress adjourned for its summer recess. The Senate is to resume debate this week.

One new provision of S 1120 would require teenage parents receiving welfare to stay in school and live under adult supervision, as well as require states to set goals for reducing teenage pregnancies.

Another incorporated the proposed Work-Force Development ACT of 1995, S 143, into the already complex welfare bill.

The work-force bill would consolidate some 90 vocational-education and job-training programs--including the Carl Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act--into a $6.1 billion block grant. It was approved in July by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. (See Education Week, July 12, 1995.)

The federal government would administer 7 percent of the funding, while the balance would be divided among the states.

The measure would require each state to devote at least 25 percent of its funds to "education efforts designed and implemented by state and local education agencies." At least one-quarter of the funds would be earmarked for making available "one-stop delivery" of employment services and job training.

A Diversionary Tactic?

The balance of each state's block grant would be allocated at the discretion of the governor.

Republicans argue that job-training programs are vital to welfare reform and that incorporating the measure into the welfare bill is the best way to win legislative approval for it.

But vocational-education advocates say that the marriage of the two proposals makes it even more likely that governors will shortchange education programs to pay for training older workers, something they had already feared would happen under a block-grant scheme.

"The merger would reverse the gains made to merge vocational education with core academic programs," said Bridget Brown, a spokeswoman for the Alexandria, Va.-based American Vocational Association.

Democratic lawmakers argued that the reform measure's requirement that half of all welfare recipients be employed by the end of the decade would put increasing pressure on states to divert money to short-term training programs targeted at that population.

They denounced the move as a "political stunt" and a "devious maneuver," and at least one amendment to separate the vocational-education provisions from the welfare bill is expected to be introduced on the Senate floor.

The House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee has approved its own consolidation measure, which would create four separate block grants. (See Education Week, May 31, 1995.)

Courting Critics

Many of the revisions in S 1120, renamed the Work Opportunity ACT of 1995, represent concessions to conservative senators, including the provisions addressing out-of-wedlock births.

Senate leaders stopped short of adopting a harsher provision contained in the House's bill, which would deny cash benefits to unwed teenage mothers and their children. But the Senate bill would allow states to adopt such measures without federal approval.

"While I want to reduce the very disturbing number of children born out of wedlock, I don't think the best way to do it is through more federal control," Sen. Dole said on the Senate floor.

But a spokesman for Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, a rival of Mr. Dole's for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination who has led the effort to include tougher language on illegitimacy, said Senate leaders are still negotiating and may incorporate restrictions on benefits for young mothers before the measure is brought to the floor.

The new Senate bill also includes a provision that would require welfare recipients with children older than age 1 to work, even if child care were unavailable, or risk losing their benefits. The Senate Finance Committee's bill would have exempted families with children age 6 or under.

The revisions did not change provisions that would retain school-meals programs, child-protection programs, and nutrition assistance for young children and pregnant women as categorical programs. The House bill would replace these programs with block grants to the states.

Senate leaders say they can fashion a bill that will draw enough votes to pass the Senate by the end of the month. But Congressional leaders may have to attach the welfare measure to budget legislation in order to secure final passage before Congress adjourns for the year.

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