WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday voted an additional $6 billion for child care for welfare recipients and the working poor as part of a bill to renew the landmark 1996 welfare reform law (search).
The measure easily won Senate passage, 78-20. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and 30 other Republicans voted for it, but the Bush administration opposes the provision and House Republicans did not include it in the version of the legislation that passed the House last year.
The provision would send states $20.5 billion over 5 years in the form of block grants (search) for programs for children up to 13 years of age. Its authors, Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said hundreds of thousands of children could lose child care without the extra money, which in turn could force thousands of low-income parents to give up their jobs.
State budget crises already have caused reductions in child care budgets, Dodd said. "Virtually every state has pared back in one way or another their support for child care," Dodd said.
Among Senate opponents of the additional money for child care, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said a $1 billion increase already built into the legislation was sufficient. "The idea that there isn't enough money out there for day care is a ruse," Santorum said. "What this is about is a social policy that people should be more and more dependent upon government."
Senate Republican leaders want to finish work on the legislation this week and allow House and Senate negotiators to work out differences between the bills.
But prospects for Senate passage have been clouded by Democratic demands that the Senate vote on several amendments dealing with workers' wages and benefits, including a proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage (search) from $5.15 to $7.
The legislation would renew the 1996 welfare law that allowed states to impose tough new rules and helped spark a reduction in welfare rolls. The law expired in 2002, but has been extended several times to give Congress more time to act.
The House welfare bill approved last year on a party-line vote would require more single mothers to work and would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to promote marriage.
The bill would put strict limits on the amount of time most welfare recipients can spend in education and training programs, require states to put more of its welfare recipients to work and each person to work more hours.
It would limit people to five years of benefits over their lifetimes and continue to ban legal immigrants from aid programs. It would provide $16.5 billion a year for states to run their programs and offer a modest increase in child care spending.
The Senate version also would require more hours of work each week, but not as many as the House bill.