Defying Bush, Senate Increases Child Care Funds for the Poor

[ Although the Bush Administration opposed an increase in child care monies for welfare recipients, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate opposed the Administration because “Congress could not require welfare recipients to work longer hours without more child care.” Why does the Administration oppose making it easier for welfare recipients and people with low-wage jobs to get child care so that they can pursue job training, or make being employed financially feasible? According to George Lakoff’s metaphor-based analysis of moral politics, “From the Bush perspective [based on the strict-father model of politics], it is … a moral obligation to eliminate social programs that lead to dependence.” Give Lakoff a look if you have not done so yet. –doclalor ]

March 31, 2004, New York Times

WASHINGTON, March 30 — Over strenuous objections from the White House, the Senate voted on Tuesday for a significant increase in money to provide child care to welfare recipients and other low-income families.

The vote, 78 to 20, expressed broad bipartisan support for a proposal to add $6 billion to child care programs over the next five years, on top of a $1 billion increase that was already included in a sweeping welfare bill. The federal government now earmarks $4.8 billion a year for such child care assistance.

The Bush administration objected to the increase in child care money, saying it was not needed. But President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress favor the overall bill, which would renew the 1996 welfare law and impose stricter work requirements on welfare recipients.

The bill still faces political and procedural hurdles in the Senate, where Democrats want to add amendments on the minimum wage, overtime pay, unemployment benefits and other topics.

Despite the White House objections, 31 Republicans, including the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, joined 46 Democrats and one independent in voting for the child care proposal, offered by Senators Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, and Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, as part of a bill to update the 1996 law.

Members of both parties said they voted for the increase because Congress could not require welfare recipients to work longer hours without more child care.

“If the aim of welfare reform is to move people off the welfare rolls and onto payrolls, if we want families to leave welfare and to stay off welfare, we have to provide them with affordable child care,” Ms. Snowe said. “Only one in 7, or 15 percent, of eligible children are now receiving assistance with the cost of day care.”

Mr. Dodd said, “You can’t get from welfare to work without child care.”

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said the extra money for child care “goes hand in hand with an increase in the work requirements.”

The House passed its version of the welfare bill in February 2003, with a $1 billion increase in automatic, or mandatory, spending for child care over five years. House Republicans are keen to update the 1996 welfare law, which they and some Democrats see as one of their most significant achievements. Some lawmakers have suggested that the two chambers might split the difference on child care.

Senate Republican leaders said they hoped to finish work on the welfare legislation this week, so they could begin trying to work out differences with the House. Senator Dodd said that day care for a child could cost $4,000 to $10,000 a year and that more than 600,000 eligible children were on waiting lists for such care. States can use the federal money to subsidize child care for welfare recipients and for people who have left welfare for low-wage jobs.

But Mr. Dodd said that states, which are still facing severe fiscal problems, were cutting child care subsidies and “shutting off assistance to the working poor.”

Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is chairman of the Finance Committee, also voted to provide extra money for child care. “You invest a little bit of taxpayers’ money, or even a lot of taxpayers’ money in this case, but you get tremendous good for it,” he said.

The White House told Congress that it strongly opposed the increase. Substantial amounts of welfare money will be freed up for child care because the welfare rolls have fallen by more than half in the last eight years, while the federal grant for the basic welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, will continue “at its current high level” of $16.5 billion a year, the White House said. Administration officials say some of the money can be used for child care.

Considering all sources of money, the administration said, states are spending three times as much on child care as they did in 1996, so further increases “are not needed.”

The 1996 law ended the individual entitlement to cash assistance, gave each state a lump sum of federal money and set a five-year limit on federal welfare payments to any family. “The great disasters predicted by opponents of the bill in 1996 never occurred,” said Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported on Tuesday that the nation’s welfare rolls continued to shrink last year. In September 2003, it said, 2,006,597 families were receiving cash benefits, down 0.9 percent from the prior year and down 54 percent from August 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the current welfare law. The number of individual welfare recipients, 4,880,037, was 2.3 percent lower than in September 2002 and 60 percent lower than in August 1996.

Major provisions of the 1996 law expired on Sept. 30, 2002, but Congress has repeatedly approved short-term extensions. The sixth extension, through June 30, cleared Congress on Tuesday.

Senator Snowe said she hoped the vote on child care would galvanize action and set a bipartisan tone for work on the welfare bill, which provides up to $200 million a year for “healthy marriage” programs. To get the full amount of federal money, states would have to spend $100 million a year of their own money for the same purpose.

Mr. Santorum said the increase in child care money far exceeded what was needed to comply with the work requirements. “The idea that there isn’t enough money out there for day care is a ruse,” Mr. Santorum said. He asserted that advocates of the child care proposal wanted welfare recipients and low-wage workers to be “dependent on the state, married to the state.”

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, said that at a time of large budget deficits, the federal government could not afford to spend $6 billion more on child care. But Senator Snowe said the cost would be covered by extending the statutory authority for the customs commissioner to charge fees for cargo and passengers arriving in the United States.

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