Bush pushes stricter welfare work rules
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- Visiting the home state of his Democratic predecessor, President Bush turned his attention to welfare reform Monday, urging the Senate to renew a popular bill with stricter work requirements.
"We ought to set high standards and aim for those standards," Bush said, defending his call for a work requirement of 40 hours per week, up from 30. He hailed the 1996 law as a "great success," saying it has moved millions of people out of poverty, off welfare and into the workforce.
That assessment is widely shared by Democratic and Republican lawmakers, but the two parties disagree over changing the work requirements and administration efforts to promote marriage in the bill. Bush wants states to move 70 percent of their welfare recipients into the workforce within five years.
The Republican-controlled House has already passed a bill that largely mirrors Bush's priorities and the Senate, controlled by Democrats, is to tackle welfare reform this month.
The White House Monday released a report from the Department of Health and Human Services detailing the success of welfare reform. According to the report, the percentage of the population that is dependent on welfare fell from 5.2 percent to 3.3 percent between 1996 -- when welfare reform was first enacted -- and 1999.
The report also cited an accompanying decline in poverty, saying that between 1996 and 2000, 5.4 million fewer Americans were in poverty -- with the poverty rate for all individuals falling from 13.7 percent to 11.3 percent.
Through his appearance and speech here -- similar to one last month in Ohio -- Bush is hoping to sway Congress to follow his wishes.
The president said the tougher work standards would help people. "There's no better way to earn dignity than to work," he said. Under the president's proposal, up to 16 hours of the 40-hour work-week requirement could be devoted to job training and education efforts.
Bush later heard from three single mothers who made the transition from welfare to work through the help of a program administered by a local church.
Spring Davidson said she found herself raising her three children alone in November and was on welfare by December. The church program, she said, helped her cultivate job skills and taught her how to present herself to prospective employers.
"They have been there for me," she said, adding that she now works at the church, attends school and plans to soon move into her own apartment with her children.
Bush said the church program underscores his goal of allowing government support for faith-based initiatives, a measure passed by the House last year, but not by the Senate.
The trip had political overtures as well. The president appeared with Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Arkansas, who is seeking re-election this year.
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