With a surprising endorsement from a group of Democrats, the Senate Finance Committee approved a welfare bill Wednesday that includes a Bush administration proposal to spend $200 million a year promoting marriage to welfare recipients. The Feminist Majority and other leading women’s rights groups have opposed this provision from the beginning because the promotion of marriage could lead to an increase in domestic violence. As many as 60 percent of women receiving welfare have been victims of domestic violence, versus 22 percent of women in the general population, according to NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF).
“The government would do better if it would promote programs to reduce domestic violence and increase living wages,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “The only way out of poverty is through increasing incomes. The difference between poor and rich is money.” The Senate bill, which passed out of committee in a 13-8 vote, includes funding for sex education with both contraceptive use and abstinence taught; and an increase of $5.5 billion in child-care spending over the next five years – compared to $1 billion in the House bill that was approved last month. This amount was not enough for most Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle who voted against the bill in committee. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) hopes to increase child-care spending to at least $7 billion when the bill reaches the floor, which could be after Congress’ month-long August recess, according to a spokesman for Daschle. 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 Bush. The Senate committee’s version also reversed a 1996 law, which made most immigrants living legally in the US ineligible for welfare benefits; and includes an amendment that would allow states to enroll immigrant children and pregnant women in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.