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Senate welfare bill raises child care funds

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted an additional $6 billion yesterday for child care for the working poor as part of a bill to renew the landmark 1996 welfare law. The measure easily won Senate passage, 78-20. But the Bush administration opposes the provision and Republicans did not include it in the version of the legislation that passed the House last year.

The provision would more than double the amount of money given to states in the form of federal block grants. Its authors, Senators Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, and Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said that without the extra money, up to 450,000 children could lose child care. That could force thousands of low-income parents to give up their jobs, the sponsors said.

Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, disagreed. "The idea that there isn't enough money out there for day care is a ruse," he said. "What this is about is a social policy that people should be more and more dependent upon government."

Senate Republican leaders want to finish work on the legislation this week and allow House and Senate negotiators to work out differences between the bills. But prospects for Senate passage have been clouded by Democratic demands that the Senate vote on several amendments dealing with workers' wages and benefits, including a plan to raise the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.

The legislation would renew the 1996 welfare law, which allowed states to toughen restrictions and helped spark a reduction in welfare rolls. The law expired in 2002 but has been extended several times.

The House approved a welfare bill last year to require more single mothers to work and to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to promote marriage.

The bill would strictly limit the amount of time most welfare recipients can spend in education and training programs and would require states to put more of their welfare recipients to work, and each person to work more hours.

It would limit people to five years of benefits over their lifetimes and continue to ban legal immigrants from aid programs.

The Senate version also would require more hours of work each week but not as many as the House bill.

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