On March 30, by a vote of 78 to 20, the Senate approved an amendment to the Welfare Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4) sponsored by Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine) and opposed by President Bush that called for a $6-billion increase in federal funding for childcare.
Despite astronomical growth in childcare funding in the last ten years (around 400%), the Senate easily agreed to the spending hike.
The amendment altered the 1996 Welfare Reform Law, which created Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and has achieved great success in moving dependents off welfare rolls and into jobs. Most of the money that has been saved because of the slash in the number of welfare cases has been directed towards childcare spending, rather than shutting down the program or giving the states some fiscal relief.
“The bill before us today is predicated on the administration’s proposal which not only strengthens work requirements, but also allows states to concentrate on removing barriers to employment, giving TANF up to 6 months during which time they can focus, without interruption, on becoming more employable, to remove those barriers that prevent them from being able to seek employment,” said amendment sponsor Snowe. This allows people in the program to have the opportunities for adult literacy, substance abuse treatment, such as vocational education or technical training — using taxpayers’ money.
Snowe argued that without good childcare, a parent is left with only two choices: to leave a child in an unsafe and often unsupervised situation, or not to work, both of which are lose-lose situations. She failed to take into account the possibility of other family members helping struggling parents.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.), who has long tried, over Republican opposition (see cloture vote below) to attach to reauthorization of the popular, successful welfare reform program. His proposal for an increase in the minimum wage, broke into a tirade about raising the minimum wage during the middle of the debate on the Snowe amendment. Stressing that he does not want anyone in the country to live in poverty, he said that he wanted to “ensure that work pays.” Kennedy suggested a huge hike in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7 an hour. He also attempted to turn his plea into a “women’s issue and a civil right’s issue” since many now making minimum wage are women and “men and women of color.” “Talk about arbitrariness and the abuse of power. We ought to be able to vote on the minimum wage??¢â???¬ ¦overtime and??¢â???¬ ¦unemployment compensation,” said Kennedy. He did not answer the much-documented argument that a minimum wage increase such as he proposes would price millions of low-skilled and younger workers out of the labor market.
“About 2.5 million children receive our federal childcare vouchers through the state,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.). “Childcare is expensive. It costs as much as a 4-year college — between $4,000 and $10,000 per child annually sometimes. Because if in this welfare reform authorization we are going to require the only parent in the house to work away from home — more work than we have required before — then we will have to pay more for more childcare,” he said.
Particularly disappointing were the votes by several socially conservative senators — including Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), and Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) — in favor of what really amounts to a federal subsidy for the child care industry. Corporate child care has been repeatedly proven harmful to children and family stability, raising the puzzling issue of why these senators would abandon their principles and support it.
A “yes” vote was a vote in favor of the Snowe amendment to provide $6 billion in new federal childcare funding. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment, which was opposed by President Bush.
|For the Amendment: 78||Against the Amendment: 20|
|REPUBLICANS FOR (31):
DEMOCRATS FOR (46):
INDEPENDENTS FOR (1):
|REPUBLICANS AGAINST (19):
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (1):
NOT VOTING: 2
|REPUBLICANS (1):||DEMOCRATS (1):|