Tags: Bush: | Adjust | Welfare | Reform

Bush: Adjust Welfare Reform

Tuesday, 26 February 2002 12:00 AM

Nearly 3 million U.S. families have left the welfare rolls since 1996, he said, but 2 million more are still on it.

"Welfare reform in 1996 was good and sound and compassionate public policy," Bush said to a gathering of National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. "We are encouraged by the initial results of welfare reform, but we're not content. We've ended welfare as we've known it, yet it is not a post-poverty America.

"Child poverty is still too high. Too many families are strained and fragile and broken. Too many Americans still have not found work and the purpose it brings.

"Because these needs continue, our work is not done," he said. "We will continue the determined assault on poverty in our country."

The proposals, called Working Toward Independence, comprise a $22 billion-a-year federal commitment to cash welfare, work preparation and child care through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Childcare and Development block grants.

Key components of the plan include:

Senior administration officials said $4.8 billion in block grants would continue for child care, and state officials would be offered incentives to allow a larger portion of state-collected back child-support payments to be given to families. Under current law, some governments can keep a substantial portion of those funds.

State flexibility to better integrate programs also will be encouraged through legislation to allow federal Cabinet-level agencies to give more waiver authority to states to improve efficiency and effectiveness of cash, housing, nutrition and workforce programs.

"At the heart of all these proposals is the single commitment to return an ethic of work to an important place in all American lives," Bush said.

"Work is a pathway to independence and self-respect."

In previewing the agenda, the White House issued a series of statistics, showing a rapid fall in welfare caseloads after 1996, an increase in work by single mothers, an increase in earnings of single mothers, an accompanying decrease in welfare dependence and a dramatic drop in child poverty rates.

The nation's economic woes apparently have not produced the rush back to welfare some predicted, the White House said.

"The economy has gone south, but welfare rolls have not increased ... there has not been the rush back to welfare," a senior administration official said.

Sheri Steisel, director of National Conference of State Legislatures' welfare reauthorization taskforce, disagreed that the economic downturn was not causing a new swell in welfare applications.

The service industry, for example, has been hard hit since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as fewer people are traveling. Nevada, she said, is experiencing an increase in welfare caseloads.

Her organization, she said, "compliments" the president for coming forward with his grant proposals, but believes welfare proposals do not focus enough on programs to keep people from slipping back onto welfare once they leave and hit a rough patch.

Proposals, she added, puts increased pressure on states at a time when they face softening economies.

The status quo in funding for childcare was troubling because it could prove inadequate, according to critics.

Under the Bush plan, the administration proposes maintaining the $16.6 billion annually to 2007 for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which had replaced the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Under current law, states are required to contribute at least 80 percent of the amount of money they spend on programs that TANF replaced, but the amount drops to 75 percent if states meet mandated work participation rates. The new proposals envisage a continuation of this policy.

Under TANF provisions that expired last year, $2 billion will be make available to help states that experience higher or growing levels of unemployment or an increasing demand for food stamps.

Another part of the president's agenda also includes up to $300 million ($200 million from the federal government, with the remainder from states) for programs that encourage stable marriages, including premarital education and counseling.

"We will work to strengthen marriage. As we reduce welfare case loads, we must improve the lives of children, and the most effective, direct way to improve the lives of children is to encourage the stability of American families," the president said.

"Building and preserving families is not always possible. I recognize that," he said. "But they should always be our goal. So my administration will give unprecedented support to strengthening marriages.

"I'm also proposing $135 million for abstinence education programs."

The president's proposals in the reauthorization bill were welcomed by some Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"In 1996, the Congress fought to enact a comprehensive welfare reform law, over President Clinton's initial objections, that forever changed the nature of welfare in this country, making welfare a helping hand rather than a way of life," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

"Today, President Bush unveiled a common-sense welfare reform agenda that will allow us to build on the success of the 1996 Welfare Reform.

"I applaud President Bush for coming up with a welfare reform plan that will help people get off welfare, get a paycheck, and have a better chance to live the American dream."

On the other side of the aisle, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said, "We haven't seen many of the details. However, we look forward to working with the administration to reauthorize the welfare program, to further reduce poverty and make work pay for all Americans."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Nearly 3 million U.S. families have left the welfare rolls since 1996, he said, but 2 million more are still on it. Welfare reform in 1996 was good and sound and compassionate public policy, Bush said to a gathering of National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. We are...
Tuesday, 26 February 2002 12:00 AM
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