Fifty Senators sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) today asking him to schedule a debate on reauthorization of the 1996 welfare law, which is due to expire in three weeks. Comprising half the Senate body, the 50 lawmakers that signed the letter asked that the nation’s welfare program be extended for five years and that more funds be allocated for childcare. “The bipartisan bill reported out of the Finance Committee is a sensible bill to bring to the floor,” reads the letter, written by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Ranit Schmelzer, a Daschle spokeswoman, told the New York Times that welfare “was on the list of things [Daschle] wants to get done this year,” but with many other things on the table he would probably not call the bill for a vote unless there was bipartisan agreement to limit debate.
In June, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill reauthorizing the welfare program with an increase of $1.1 billion in annual spending for childcare, compared to a House bill passed in May, which increased spending by $400,000 over the current spending level of $4.8 billion. However, the Senate Finance Committee only approved the bill by a 13-8 vote, with votes against coming from several Democrats including Daschle, who hopes to increase childcare spending even more. A 30-hour workweek requirement for welfare recipients was also included in the Senate version – compared to the 40-hour version approved by the House and endorsed by President Bush.
Meanwhile, early this month the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved a bill that would increase funds for states to $3.1 billion to improve training in early childhood development, improve salaries and benefits for childcare workers, expand referral services for parents and increase childcare assistance to low-income working families. This bill will most likely be combined with the welfare reauthorization bill pending on the Senate floor.