Carper, Nelson, Collins Introduce Bipartisan Welfare Reform Bill

Legislation Would Increase Work Requirements, Child Care Funding

WASHINGTON, DC – Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, yesterday introduced welfare reform legislation that would strengthen work requirements while also providing additional childcare funding and needed flexibility to help states prepare welfare recipients for private sector work. Carper and Nelson, both former governors, and Collins praised the landmark 1996 welfare reform bill, which has reduced welfare caseloads nationwide by nearly 50 percent. But the senators said the 1996 bill, which is up for reauthorization, could be improved and urged Congress to pass legislation to give states new work goals to meet and new resources to help get people off welfare and back to work. “This is not a situation of ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’,” said Senator Carper. “It’s more like, ‘if it isn’t perfect, make it bette’.” While the president’s welfare reform initiative also emphasizes a “work first approach,” the senators said the administration’s bill is only half a solution because it raises the bar for recipients without giving states and families some of the necessary tools they need to meet the stricter rules. The bipartisan Building on Welfare Success Act would raise the current state work-participation rate from 50 percent to 70 percent, require most welfare recipients to work at least 32 hours a week and eliminate the “caseload reduction credit” loophole in an effort to give states more incentive to put recipients to work. But unlike the Bush proposal, the Carper-Nelson-Collins bill would invest nearly $6 billion in childcare funding to help welfare recipients meet the work requirements and permanently transition out of the welfare system. “You can’t raise work requirements without conversely helping families take care of their children,” said Senator Carper. “This bill is a balanced approach at reauthorizing welfare. It challenges states to put more people to work but provides the resources and flexibility for states to meet this new challenge.” “With a focus on requiring work and supporting families we can enhance welfare reforms and achieve even more,” said Senator Nelson. “This legislation provides states with the flexibility and resources necessary to begin the next generation of welfare reform.” “Our welfare reform bill strikes a good middle ground in terms of providing families with the support that they need to stay in the workforce and providing flexibility to states so they can take advantage of vocational education programs and post-secondary education programs,” said Senator Collins. Among the bill’s major provisions: Increases Work Requirements: The proposal would increase the state work participation rate by 5 percent each year until it reaches 70 percent in 2008. As for work requirements, the bill would continue the current 20-hour workweek for single parents with children under six. Families with children over six, however, would have to engage in a work activity for 32 hours a week, and at least 24 hours must be in so-called “core activities,” such as public and private sector work and vocational education. Provides Flexibility for States: The current caseload reduction credit is eliminated and replaced with an employment credit that rewards states for moving people to work. States would also receive bonus credits if welfare recipients are placed in higher-paying jobs, defined as 50 percent of the state’s average wage. In addition, the bill would help states continue to provide more education and training to recipients, including allowing states to count up to 24 months of vocational training toward the work-participation rate. States can also count post-secondary education toward the work-participation rate. Strengthens Families: The bill would provide $6 billion over the next five years for the Child Care Development Block Grant. The bill also sets a goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates by one-third over the next decade, and would set aside $450 million for states to set up and implement pregnancy reduction programs. Finally, the bill incorporates legislation introduced by Senator Evan Bayh, D-Ind., on responsible fatherhood. This provision provides grants to states to promote responsible fatherhood through parenting and marriage promotion, as well as economic security. Other provisions of the Building on Welfare Success Act would:

  • Reauthorize the Transitional Medical Assistance program, which provides health coverage to former welfare recipients who are unable to purchase insurance. States would be able to offer the benefits for a full 24 months.
  • Provide $15 million annually to improve transportation access and assistance for low-income families. The funds could be used to help low-income families with children obtain dependable, affordable automobiles to improve their access to employment opportunities and educational training.