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Senate OKs Additional $6 Billion for Child Care

Increase for the working poor and welfare families comes despite a fight from White House.

March 31, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Over White House objections, the Senate voted Tuesday for 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.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was among 31 Republicans who supported the increase, which passed 78-20 despite the Bush administration's contention that significant reductions in welfare rolls had freed up money for child care. 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 five years in the form of block grants for programs for children up to age 13. Its authors, Sens. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), said hundreds of thousands of children could lose care without the extra money, which 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.

One opponent of the additional money, 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. It is unclear whether Republicans in the House would accept the sizable child-care increase, but Snowe and Dodd said Tuesday's vote indicated the Senate probably would not support welfare legislation without additional money.

First, though, the Senate's Republican leadership has to contend with Democratic demands that the Senate vote on several amendments dealing with workers' wages and benefits, including a proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.

Frist said late Tuesday that the Senate could vote, perhaps as early as Thursday, to block the amendments, which he and other Republicans have called election-year grandstanding unrelated to welfare.

Republicans, who hold 51 seats in the Senate, need 60 votes to close off further discussion. If they can't get 60 votes, the legislation could be set aside.

Santorum also intends to seek a vote on his proposal to allow faith-based programs broader access to federal funding.

The legislation would renew the 1996 welfare law that allowed states to impose tough new rules and helped reduce welfare rolls. The government said Tuesday that the number of people on welfare had declined significantly since the law took effect.

Still, welfare rolls increased in 25 states and the District of Columbia in the 12-month period that ended in September.

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