House Passes Controversial Welfare Bill

In a highly partisan vote, the House of Representatives voted yesterday to reauthorize the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and increase work requirements, promote marriage, and impose abstinence-only sexual education on welfare recipients. As Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) stated, “The Republican bill is very long on conservatism and very short on compassion.” Passed on a vote of 229 to 197, HR 4737 takes no account of inflation in maintaining the states’ block grants at $16.5 billion a year. In addition, it mandates a 40-hour workweek for 70% of welfare recipients and cuts education and training programs from 20 to 16 hours per week. While the bill allocates $300 million a year for programs promoting “healthy marriage” and another $50 million dollars for abstinence-only sexual education, child care spending increased by only $2 billion compared with the Democrats’ requested $11 billion. When asked why child care received such little attention despite survey data showing extensive waiting lists and high demand for childcare throughout the country, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson answered with “the war.”

Opponents of the bill quickly attacked its provisions. National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy argued, “Forcing young mothers into dead-end jobs, without the education and skills that would truly allow them to support themselves and their families, not only ill serves those families, but also employers, the communities, and our nation.” Multiple organizations, including Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, also questioned the efficacy of abstinence-only programs, citing that “[such programs] have been rejected by every mainstream medical and health organization in the US.”


Kaisernetwork.org, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 5/17/02; New York Times, 5/17/02; Los Angeles Times, 5/17/02; NOW, 5/16/02; Washington Post, 5/17/02

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