Key Senate and House members Monday reached an agreement providing for major federal welfare reform that emphasizes job training, education and work in an attempt to nudge welfare parents onto the employment rolls.
Ending weeks of stalemated negotiations, the compromise is virtually assured of passage before Congress adjourns.
The tentative agreement includes a requirement that at least one person in two-parent families on welfare work at least 16 hours a week in return for benefits. This "workfare" provision was demanded by President Reagan to avert his veto.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had taken the day off from campaigning to participate in the closed-door talks that produced the breakthrough. He called the agreement an "excellent compromise," and said the landmark bill would cost $3.34 billion over five years and that the Administration has accepted the proposal.
Under the bill, welfare parents with children over age 3 would be required, to the extent funds are available, to enroll in state basic education, job training, work experience and job search programs.
In fiscal 1990 and 1991, a state would be required to enroll at least 7% of eligible parents in the education and training programs. That requirement would rise to 20% by fiscal 1995. The Administration had demanded enrollment targets.
To smooth the transition from welfare dependency to reliance on a job, the recipients would be assured of one year of day-care assistance and a year of continued family Medicaid eligibility after they had obtained a job and worked their way off the cash-welfare benefit rolls.
In addition, to help improve the income of welfare parents, the bill would require automatic employer deduction of legally due child-support payments from the paycheck of an absent parent, even if the payments are not in arrears.
Under the bill, all states would be required to provide benefits for families in which the father is present but unemployed. Half the states already cover such families voluntarily. Under the bill, newly covered two-parent states could limit benefits to a family to six months a year.
Direct benefit payments would not be raised but the $3.34 billion would be allocated over the next five years for education, training and transitional benefits in hopes of spurring young, single mothers to get jobs and support their families.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Bentsen, joined by ranking Republicans from their committees and a representative of the White House, ironed out differences that had deadlocked a Senate-House conference over different versions of welfare legislation.
In addition, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel involved in Medicaid aspects of the bill, was called to the meeting and signed off on the compromise plan.
If a majority of other members of the conference go along with the proposal, as expected, it would have bipartisan approval and White House blessing before it is considered by the Senate and House in the closing days of the session.
In addition, Senate sources said that eight issues were resolved Monday afternoon by Bentsen, Rostenkowski, Waxman, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.), Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.) and others with the agreement of Joe Wright, a top official of the White House Office of Management and Budget who has participated in the drafting of the welfare legislation.
House members--including House Labor Committee Chairman Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles)--had balked at the "workfare" and compulsory participation in the jobs program but others went along. Hawkins was not invited to the closed-door talks because he indicated he would not change his position, a Senate source said.
Other parts of the compromise proposal said states may require a welfare mother under 18 to live with her parents or in a "supervised environment" to continue receiving benefits.
"It's a significant change in our welfare system, the first in 53 years," said Downey, chairman of the House subcommittee on public assistance. Downey added: "It will make it easier for them to go to work."