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Deficit Reduction Act of 2005--Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I rise today in support of S. 1932, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, but I want to take a few minutes to discuss a specific aspect of that bill--the reauthorization of the welfare reform law. As many of my colleagues have heard me say, I believe the 1996 welfare reform law is one of the great legislative successes during my time in the U.S. Senate. Since the bi11's enactment, welfare caseloads have been cut in half, more than 7 million individuals and 2 million families have exchanged a welfare check for a paycheck, and welfare reform has lifted 2.3 million children out of poverty.

We must build upon this success to move the 2 million families that remain on welfare into the workforce by ending the Practice of simply extending the program and passing a legislative reauthorization of the welfare reform law. On January 24, 2005, I introduced S.6, the MORE Act, that included a reauthorization of TANF. A bipartisan reauthorization bill, S. 667, passed the Senate Finance Committee with my support on March 9, 2005. While I continue to believe that such reauthorization would have been best suited by moving the Senate Finance Committee reported bill, S. 667, under regular order; we unfortunately have been unable to reach an agreement with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to bring this bill to the floor.

After over 3 years of trying to move forward on this reauthorization, our colleagues in the House have included TANF reauthorization in their budget reconciliation bill. Going into this process, I was concerned that some provisions in the House legislation regarding work hours, participation rates, child support enforcement and access to child care did not strike the appropriate balance needed to meet the needs of these families as they strive to move from welfare to work. I was pleased that the House had included provisions to encourage healthy marriages, promote responsible fatherhood, and support strong families. At the end of the day, the Deficit Reduction Act is not my preferred vehicle, but I am glad we are making some improvements in the program without upsetting the necessary balance.

The conference report reauthorizes the welfare program--the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or TANF--through fiscal year 2010 at its current funding level of $16.9 billion annually. The bill provides an additional $1 billion for child care over 5 years for a total of $2.917 billion annually. While I understand and have heard from many that they want a higher amount for child care, this bill will increase the investment in child care for working families by $1 billion, and if we don't do this bill there will be no increase in child care at all. It is important to get this increase done this year.

I am very pleased that the conference report provides $100 million annually for healthy marriage promotion, and $50 million annually for the promotion of responsible fatherhood. The need for these programs is clear. Children growing up in married, two-parent homes are less likely to be victims of abuse, engage in high risk behaviors, and suffer from emotional problems. Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, five times more likely to be poor, and at least two to three times more likely to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with both parents.

However the benefits are also clear. Married families are 5 times less likely to be in poverty than are single-parent families. Adults benefit from marriage through lower mortality rates, better health, greater financial well-being, less suicide, greater happiness, and suffer less violence by intimate partners. Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers. These grants can be used to provide information on the value of marriage, conflict resolution, relationship skills and financial management. Increasing healthy two-parent marriages is a proven means to reduce poverty and improve child well-being.

This conference report also makes modest changes in the implementation of the TANF program. First, it updates work participation rates. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, P.L. 104-193, contemplated that all states would meet a 50-percent participation rate by 2002. Because the current caseload reduction credit is based on the 1995 caseload level, most States--including my home State of Pennsylvania--have an actual participation rate standard of zero. States currently achieve their credit because of their ability to count a decade-old caseload decline. The conference report updates the credit to the more relevant date of 2005, thereby ensuring that the intent of the 1996 welfare reform act is realized.

The bill also closes a loophole on work participation rates. To avoid having to meet caseload requirements, some states set up separate programs and moved their harder-to-place clients to those programs to avoid the work requirements. The bill removes the ability to game the system by including these separate state programs in the work calculation, closing a loophole.

I have seen a number of reports that indicate that this bill changes work requirements, narrows what is considered work, et cetera. I want to be clear that this bill maintains the current work requirements. The bill does not change the current-law standard of 30 hours and maintains the separate 20-hour standard for adults with a child six years of age and under. It also maintains current-law activities that count as work, including allowing 12 months for education and training. The measure leaves it to the states to determine whether activities may be counted as work activities, and how to count and verify reported hours of work.

I have heard a number of my colleagues say that this bill ``cuts'' money from child support enforcement. I hope they go back and read the bill. The changes in child support actually increase child support enforcement and gets support to the families. The conference report includes provisions that increase States' ability to improve child support collection. Under current law, much of the child support that is owed to families on welfare is assigned to the State. The conference agreement would allow $423 million owed to families on welfare and those who have left welfare to go directly to those families--a significant improvement over current law.

The supposed ``cut'' is a restoration of the current state-matching requirement. Currently, States are required to match certain Federal funds with state funds, showing a State investment in the child support enforcement program. However, States have been taking Federal funds from one grant and then using them as the ``Federal'' matching funds rather than using State funds. The conference report prevents States from ``double dipping'' by using Federal funds to draw down additional matching federal funds for child support enforcement.

Additionally, the conference report provides $100 million for grants to ensure that the safety, permanence and well-being needs of children are met in a timely manner. The funds may also be used for the training of judges, attorneys, and other legal personnel in child welfare cases.

The measure also provides an increase of $200 million for the Safe and Stable Families program. The purpose of this program is to enable States to develop, expand or operate coordinated programs of community-based family support services for family preservation services, family reunification services, and adoption promotion.

A number of organizations may have misunderstood the changes relating to the alleged ``cuts'' in foster care. There are two provisions relating to foster care that might have led to this misperception, so let me speak on them for a minute.

First, the conference agreement restores long-standing foster care eligibility criteria relating to the Rosales v. Thompson decision. That decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals broadened eligibility for Federal foster care benefits to include almost every child in foster care in the nine affected States--California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii--instead of only children removed from low-income homes that TANF is intended to help. The conference agreement again ensures the same policy applies nationwide. As this decision did not apply in Pennsylvania, this change does not affect my home State.

Second, the bill limits the amount of administrative expenses when States are slow to place children in safe and suitable situations. I should be clear that this proposal does not reduce foster care benefits because the funds in question do not support payments to families. Instead, the proposal addresses how much Federal funding States may claim to operate their foster care programs and under what circumstances Federal funding may be claimed. Current law requires the placement of a child in a licensed foster family home or a child care institution as a condition of eligibility for federal foster care maintenance payments. As part of meeting this duty, States may make certain administrative claims on behalf of ``candidates'' for federal foster care. ``Candidates'' are children who have not been removed from their homes but are at imminent risk of removal.

The proposal allows the State to claim Federal administrative funds for up to 12 months while children are ``candidates'' for Federal foster care and the State is working to license the home as safe and appropriate for the child. In January 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, issued a proposed regulation making this change. So States have been on notice that this issue was of concern for almost a year. Fourteen States have indicated that they would be affected by the proposed regulation; however Pennsylvania was not one of those States.

In summary, millions of our fellow citizens have replaced the dependency on government handouts with the dignity and opportunity of work. Children and families will now have opportunities to strengthen their families through programs to support marriage and responsible fatherhood. Thousands of children will have access to childcare through the $1 billion in new funding. And we have strengthened our child welfare programs. On balance, I think the reconciliation bill, as it relates to welfare reform, is a step in the right direction. I remain committed to ensuring that work remains a gateway to opportunity for all Americans and urge my colleagues to support passage of S. 1932, the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005.

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