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Patriot Act

Location: Washington, DC

PATRIOT ACT -- (Senate - December 14, 2005)


Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, I support Senator Carper's motion to instruct reconciliation conferees to reject the House TANF provisions. Assisting needy families is too important an issue for this Chamber to cede its legislative authority to the House of Representatives. The TANF Program affects millions of American children and families. It deserves a full and fair debate.

The reconciliation process does not permit that debate. Reconciliation is not the place for policy changes.

The right starting point for Senate debate is the PRIDE bill. PRIDE is not a perfect bill. But it is a reasonable bipartisan effort that addresses childcare, transitional medical assistance, and certain educational opportunities.

Mr. President, we should have a full debate on the PRIDE bill. We should consider what the evidence actually says about moving people from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, from poverty to prosperity. We should have a full debate about what is really required to provide all Americans with equal opportunity.

Unfortunately, reconciliation does not permit that debate. Worse yet, the House provisions are based not on evidence and experience but on ideology.

The cynical increase in the work hour requirement, for example, is a Federal mandate with no basis in the reality of what works to promote work and reduce poverty. The data shows that people meeting the current 30-hour requirement work about 35 hours now. That is a bit more than the national average for ``full time'' work for all employees, whether they receive TANF or not. Indeed, among all mothers with children under the age of 6, only 43 percent work as much as 35 hours.

People who don't meet the 30-hour TANF requirement now--for whatever reason--are not going to work more just because the requirement has been increased. What will happen is that Congress will punish the States and reduce State flexibility to do what works.

In my own State of Illinois, we are committed to moving people off welfare and into work. And Illinois is not cynical about it. This isn't about pinching pennies but about providing opportunity.

Illinois is serious about the need for work. Tens of thousands of families have worked their way off assistance. But we understand why people find themselves in need of assistance. We have adopted flexible rules to accommodate families where the wage earner was medically unable to work, where a spouse or child was disabled, where the worker was finishing up a training program.

Illinois requires work but allows people to work part time while they take care of their obligations. And to get mothers out of their homes and into the workforce in a productive way, we have improved the child care subsidy system. We have invested in it.

And you know what? People in Illinois have not lingered on TANF. If they could work their way off the program, they have done so.

Unfortunately, the House TANF provisions which raise participation rates to 75 percent will make it harder for States to deal with family sickness, the realities of raising children, and natural disasters. To avoid penalties, States will have to find make-work activities even for TANF recipients who are working full time.

Another problem is that raising work hours and participation rates will increase the need for childcare well beyond the funding provided in the House bill. Childcare funding makes work possible for many women. If we want people to work and be responsible parents, we have to worry about who will care for their kids. Under the House proposal, States will be forced to fund other activities that will leave them with less money for childcare. That makes no sense.

The House TANF provisions make it harder for States to support working families. I urge my colleagues to reject those provisions in reconciliation, and I look forward to an honest debate about TANF and the PRIDE bill here on the Senate floor.

I also rise today to speak in favor of the motion to instruct offered by Senator Kohl. This motion expresses the Senate's view that the Senate conferees should not accept the cuts to the child support program that have been proposed by the Committee on Ways and Means in the House of Representatives.

The child support program is an effective and efficient way to enforce the responsibility of noncustodial parents to support their children. For every public dollar that is spent on collection, more than four dollars are collected to support children. That is a good return on our investment in families. Moreover, these families are then less likely to require public assistance and more likely to avoid or escape poverty. This is a program that works.

The evidence is compelling. For example, in 2004, enforcement efforts helped collect almost $22 billion in child support. Our aggressive State and Federal efforts have translated into $1 billion in collected child support payments in Illinois alone this year. That means 386,000 Illinois families will be better equipped to provide for their children.

Preliminary budget estimates suggest the cuts proposed by the Ways and Means Committee will translate into $7.9 billion in lost collections within 5 years, increasing to a loss of over $24 billion within 10 years. This proposal is not even penny-wise, and it is certainly pound-foolish.

Today, the State of Illinois reports a 32 percent child support collection rate. Let's not take a step backward in the progress that has been made by stripping the States of necessary Federal support. The welfare of too many is at stake.

Child support is the second largest income source for qualifying low-income families. We should not balance our budget on the backs of families that rely on child support to remain out of poverty.

I urge my colleagues to support this motion as well. Thank you.

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