Senate Clears Measure Ending Welfare Guarantees
After a week of heated public debate and delicate backstage negotiations, the Senate passed a historic welfare-reform bill last week that would end six decades of public-assistance guarantees to millions of needy children and their families.
A bipartisan coalition of senators endorsed the bill in an 87-12 vote after Senate Republican leaders agreed to boost authorized funding levels for child-care programs, remove provisions that would bar payments to mothers who have additional children while on welfare, and strike job-training provisions that would have tied federal vocational-education programs to welfare reform. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1995.)
The job-training proposals will be considered as a separate bill. (See story, this page.)
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who fashioned the compromise, sounded a triumphant note after the vote.
"No more business as usual, no more tinkering around the edges," Sen. Dole, who is seeking the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, said in a statement. "We are not only fixing welfare, we are revolutionizing it."
However, the concessions that won the support of moderates--and a tentative statement of support from President Clinton--set the stage for a showdown with members of the House, who approved a welfare bill in March containing many provisions that are unacceptable to moderate lawmakers
The two bills must be reconciled by a House-Senate conference committee, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting next week. sic 1st week of Oct
In a statement after the Senate vote, President Clinton said that if a final bill "remains a bipartisan effort to promote work and protect children, it will be a very great thing," and warned lawmakers not to "give in to extremist pressure."
The "extremist" provisions President Clinton was referring to include the "family cap," language in the House measure that would bar increased aid for mothers who have additional children while on welfare, and the proposed ban on public assistance to unwed teenage mothers. The House bill would prohibit cash payments to unwed mothers under 18; the Senate bill would allow states to impose those restrictions but would not mandate them.
Conservatives in both chambers have hailed these proposals as ways to reduce out-of-wedlock births, while others argue that they are punitive to children and would be ineffective in modifying behavior.
"We will definitely be fighting hard to restore the family cap," said Kristi S. Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, a conservative group that lobbies on family issues. "This is an idea whose time has come."
Another major difference between the two bills concerns school-meals programs, which the House bill would replace with a block grant that would be controlled by the states. (See Education Week, March 28, 1995.)
House Republicans were stung when the proposal was widely criticized, and charges that it would leave children hungry made headlines. And lobbyists asserted that the bad publicity influenced senators' decision not to consider the idea, which was not even raised in debate on their welfare measure.
Nonetheless, some child-nutrition groups are concerned that the House language might prevail in conference.
"I think that pressure has to continue on the conferees even though the Senate didn't block-grant nutrition programs, because House members aren't backing down on this," said Ellen Teller, a lobbyist for the Food Research and Action Center, a group that advocates on behalf of child-nutrition programs.
Retaining Child Care
Child-care provisions are also likely to be a sticking point.
If the final bill reduces child-care funding below the level authorized in the Senate bill, "this thing will be stopped in its tracks," said Marvin Fast, a spokesman for Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn..
Mr. Dodd sponsored an amendment that boosted authorized funding for child-care programs from $5 billion to $8 billion. That money was added to a $5 billion child-care block grant that was already included in the Senate bill, making a total of $13 billion over five years in proposed child-care funding. The House bill would authorize $10 billion over five years for a similar block grant.
Many child-advocacy groups have contended, however, that the Senate bill is also objectionable, because neither measure would require states to offer child-care aid to welfare recipients who are forced to work.
"The Senate bill goes further towards recognizing there has to be federal help for child-care costs," said Mark Greenberg, a senior staff lawyer for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a liberal think tank. "But the bills just reflect different degrees of extremism."
Vol. 15, Issue 04