Statement of Senator Max Baucus Welfare Reform Reauthorization Markup
The 1996 welfare reform law was a landmark. The old system had failed. We werespending billions, but had little to show for it. So we tried something new. I strongly supported the1996 bill and, looking back, I’m glad I did. Hundreds of thousands of people have left welfare forwork. The cash welfare caseload fell more than 50 percent between 1996 and 2001. Child povertyin this country has fallen at the same time. But, despite our success, there is still more to be done.
First, we’ve learned that getting a job isn’t always a ticket out of poverty. Studies of thosewho leave welfare for work show that many former recipients find jobs that pay too little, or thatthey have trouble staying in the workforce because of breakdowns in child care arrangements or theneeds of children with chronic health conditions. If we want to make a lasting difference, we needto provide some help with child care, to make sure that it’s safe and high-quality.
In addition to supporting work, we have to focus more attention on the number of hardestcases. Let’s look at ways to help families that face complicated and difficult challenges. Parentsliving with children with disabilities, adults with little or no education or work skills, adults who areliving with mental conditions or substance abuse programs.
With that as background, let me explain how I see things from here and my thoughts on theChairman’s mark before us. First, I agree with what the president said last February when westarted this debate. Like him, I am encouraged by the initial results of welfare reform, but not thecontent. As he said, we have “ended welfare as we've known it” but not yet reached a “post-povertyAmerica.”
I was very disappointed by the legislation the House has produced. It is a heavy-handed mixof prescriptive rules and unfunded mandates and would mean that much less child care help wouldbe available for the working poor. Last year, when I chaired the Committee, we approved a morebalanced package. It aimed for the higher goals the president requested but did so in a way thatgave States more options for meeting the goals and provided additional resources so they couldexpand help to the working poor. Unfortunately, the Senate schedule did not permit us to considerthat bill last year.
I do plan to offer it as a substitute for the Chairman’s mark. And I would note that elevencurrent members of the Finance Committee supported the bill last year. I would also note thatSenator Carper has introduced a bipartisan bill which is a better balanced package of higher goalsand appropriate child care funding.
The Chairman has worked hard -- as he often does -- to develop a consensus bill and I amgrateful for his work. We have spent considerable time discussing these issues and I appreciate hison-going effort to work together. The bill before us is better than the House measure. For one, it is less prescriptive then the House bill. It also includes a more robust package of child supportreforms to help get more money to custodial parents. It is a good start. I regret I cannot support it.
That said, I hope to support it by the end of the process.
My first concern is funding for child care. This bill does not cover the increased costs ofimplementing the new higher work standards. The effect of this failure would be to reduce the childcare funding available to low-income working families. This would be a terrible mistake. It alsofails to expand child care help for the working poor. Many of those families who have left welfarefor work are struggling to get by in low-paying jobs. Help with paying their child care expensescould mean the difference between working and having to go back on welfare. We can’t pull therug out from under these families now. We need to keep up our side of the welfare reform bargain.
My second concern is about Montana’s welfare-to-work strategy. We did our own welfarereform before 1996 and have kept it going under a waiver. The strategy is a little different than the1996 law allows. But, well, Montana is a little different than the rest of the country. Our strategyhas been a success. Our caseload is down by about as much as the rest of the country’s and we haverecovered an evaluation that describes our program as effective and focused on work. We want tokeep to that strategy. The Chairman’s Mark does not allow Montana to extend its waiver. This is aproblem.
However, I have been talking to the Chairman about other ways to incorporate Montana’sstrategy into the bill. I appreciate his willingness, for example, to include provisions to help Indiantribes under welfare reform. That’s a huge issue in Montana and he has been very understanding. Iappreciate that. It makes me optimistic we’ll resolve these concerns.
The third issue is the inclusion of a controversial “super-waiver” provision. After muchinitial confusion, we have now been told the provision in the bill before us will be limited towelfare, Title XX, and child care block grants. The House bill has much broader waiver provisionin non- TANF programs, most of which are not in this Committee’s jurisdiction. In July, I receiveda letter strongly opposing this provision from the ranking Democrats on other relevant committees –Senators Kennedy, Sarbanes, Harkin, and Byrd. The letter states that the administration’s proposalrepresents a “frontal assault on the fundamental principle of separation of powers” because of theunprecedented power it would give the executive branch to rewrite federal law.
The original Hous e provision looked a lot like what is now in our bill. Then it wasmassively expanded. If this provision grows in a similar manner, it is unlikely I will be able tosupport the bill. It has been my experience that this Administration has over-stepped its currentwaiver authority in areas such as SCHIP and child support. It makes little sense to give themsweeping new authority until they demonstrate they understand the current rules better.
Now that I’ve pointed out some problems with the mark, I do want to say that I’m hopefulthat when the full Senate considers the bill we’ll be able to resolve the se concerns. I understand, forexample, that Senator Snowe plans to pursue additional child care funding on the floor. I hope I’llbe able to work with her to achieve that.
And I know Senator Grassley will keep working to develop a broader base of support for thebill. I appreciate some of the things he has included already. His work on Indian provisions hasbeen impressive. I can’t support his bill now but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to support the Senate’sfinal product.
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