After months of delay, the Republican re-write of the welfare program has been introduced and is moving on a fast track through Congress. Floor votes are scheduled for this week, with a promise from President Clinton to sign a bill. There is little difference between the welfare bill (H.R. 4) which the president vetoed in January and the new plan H.R. 3734 /S. 1795. Both the old and new bills transform Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) from an entitlement program to a block grant program which will be administered by the states, with $53 billion in cuts over seven years. All welfare recipients will be required to have a job within two years of applying for cash assistance and there is a five year lifetime maximum during for AFDC and related benefits.
The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the measure as part of the budget package for FY 97, but it was unclear whether the Senate would vote on welfare as part of budget reconciliation or separately and it was also not clear whether welfare would be separated from Medicaid. Because the president has indicated to Congressional leaders that he is willing to sign a bill (without Medicaid attached), the opportunity was severely diminished for social service program advocates to modify the welfare bill's more punishing provisions.
The Senate Finance Committee has incorporated a number of amendments, including raising the required 25 hour work week to 35 hours; creating an exemption for parents of children under 11 who cannot find child care; and imposing a "family cap" provision, meaning that families who have more children while on welfare would be denied additional assistance (states can "opt out" of this, but must take steps to do so). This provision of the legislation would have a particularly devastating consequence for children and critics note that it would, undoubtedly, cause a rise in the abortion rate.
Other restrictive provisions: states can stop payments to unmarried teens if they don't remain at home and in school (even though the home environment may not be a good one) and cash grants are given to states which reduce out-of-wedlock births without increasing abortions (thus giving an incentive to make abortions difficult to obtain). Welfare benefits will be denied to parents who don't co-operate in child support collection, compelling mothers to identify fathers of their children even if it will put them at risk of domestic violence. And -- perhaps the most cruel aspect -- women and children under 13 who lose cash aid would lose Medicaid assistance as well.
Among the many serious problems with the bill, as identified by the Coalition on Human Needs, are the following proposed changes:
: Contact your senators (our focus should be on the Senate, rather than the House, which will easily pass welfare "reform") immediately to tell them that this legislation makes millions of women and children poorer. It dooms families who live in areas with high unemployment to hopeless poverty. It will increase hunger and domestic violence, among many unfortunate consquences. It will negatively impact struggling families with children who have severe disabilities. It incorporates intrusive and dangerous policies which will mean that problems associated with poverty will become worse, not better.
Advise President Clinton that this welfare "reform" bill deserves his veto, noting that a majority of women do not support harsh and punitive welfare policies. If he wants to count on the gender gap for his re-election, then he should seriously re-consider his actions on this issue. There is an outside chance that if the Republicans present a combined welfare/
Medicaid package to the president, there could be a veto. More detailed talking points are available from the NOW Government Relations office.
A much delayed increase to the minimum wage will finally happen now that the Senate has voted (74 to 24) in favor of President Clinton's proposal, the first time the minimum wage has been raised since 1990. Supporters fought back Republican-sponsored amendments that would have exempted companies earning less than $500,000 in annual revenues (termed a "killer" amendment which would affect two thirds of all businesses in the country with 10.5 million employees) and would have allowed for a six month sub-minimum wage category.
The House had already accepted the increase on May 23 and the president is expected to sign the legislation as soon as it reaches his desk. The increase amounts to 90 cents, from $4.25 to $5.15 over a two year period. Close to six million minimum wage earners are women --many of them single heads of households trying to raise families on about $8,840 (full time year round), which for a mother with two children is 27 percent below the poverty line. The $4.25 an hour level represented a 40 year low in real terms and researchers note that the decline in the real value of the minimum wage since 1979 accounts for 30 percent of the rise in wage inequality for women.
Despite the favorable action now in both houses of Congress, Senate Majority Whip Don Nickels (R-OK) was threatening to hold up appointments of conference committee members in order to obtain some agreements for his favored bills.
Thank the president for his efforts to increase the income of poor working women, noting that the $5.15 an hour is still far from adequate to keep families out of poverty. Calls to Sen. Nickels from Oklahoma voters will help, too.
A crushing vote of 342 to 67 in the House of Representatives passed the H.R. 3396, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which says that states do not have to comply with the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution in recognizing any state law legalizing same sex marriage. The bill also defines marriage for federal purposes as between one man and one woman.
Sixty-five Democrats voted against the bill, while 118 Democrats joined 224 Republicans voting for it. Rep. Steve Gunderson (WI), who is openly gay, was the lone Republican voting against DOMA. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) led floor efforts to amend the bill to strike Section 3, dealing with denial of federal benefits to same sex couples, which failed. A second amendment he offered would have allowed granting of those benefits to same sex couples in states where a majority of voters have approved a referendum measure legalizing same sex marriage, which also failed.
A hearing was held July 11th regarding DOMA (S. 1740) by the Senate Judiciary Committee, with no action taken. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) discussed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA, S. 932), a bill to prohibit discrimination against lesbians and gay men in the workplace, but did not make a motion to join ENDA with DOMA. Kennedy has indicated that he will offer from the floor the non-discrimination bill as an amendment to the anti-same sex marriage bill. Mark-up for DOMA has not been scheduled by the committee as yet, but the measure is listed as a priority for the Senate to be voted on in September.
Constitutional law experts have noted in statements to Congress that the Defense of Marriage Act has several significant constitutional problems, the most serious being that it attempts to amend the Constitution by a statute, rather than the requisite Constitutional amendment and ratification process. Additionally, the Constitution says that states are required to recognize the official public acts and judicial proceedings of other states; Congress only has authority to pass laws to carry out that provision, not to negate it.
Contact your member of the Senate and urge him/her to vote against DOMA. A more extensive report on this action will be available soon with a listing of how members voted; NOW activists will be urged to thank brave Senators and Representatives who have voted against DOMA in the face of inflammatory Right Wing political rhetoric. Also, NOW members may want to call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111.
It still looks doubtful that the anti-affirmative action legislation will move in the 104th Congress, even though the House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to conduct a mark-up session July 16th on H.R. 2128, the so-called Equal Opportunity Act of 1996, sponsored by Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-FL). Recent polls show a 50 to 38 majority of the American public in favor of affirmative action --despite the negative press that has been given the issue.
Talk to your member of the House during the August recess about how important affirmative action programs are to women; urge them to vote against H.R. 2128.
Thanks to the hard work of women's education advocates, funding for the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) was restored on July 11th as an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill. The action was spearheaded by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-CA) and Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), with Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-CT), Dale Kildee (D-MI), Patsy Mink (D-HI), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Carrie Meek (D-FL) speaking in favor of the $2 million restoration. Reps. John Porter (R-IL) and Barbara Cubin (R-WY) spoke against it.
Money for the WEEA program came from a $16 million increase in the budget of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. When the bill moves to the Senate, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has given his assurance that he will leave WEEA funding intact.
Contact your senator to urge his/her support and thank the hardy House members who succeeded in getting the funding restored. Talking points for your senators on the WEEA program can be obtained from the NOW Government Relations office.
An important victory was achieved when family planning supporters were able to beat back efforts, both in committee and on the floor of the House, to attach severe restrictions to Title X family planning programs which were backdoor approaches to parental consent. House Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Livingston (R-LA) had pushed for these amendments, limiting access of teen-agers to family planning services.
But on the floor of the House, a strategic amendment offered by pro-family planning Reps. David Obey (D-WI), Jim Greenwood (R-PA), and Nita Lowey (D-CA) requiring that applicants for Title X funds certify to the Secretary of Health and Human Services that they encourage family participation in the decision of minors seeking family planning services, passed by a vote of 232-193. Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) even supported this proposal which replaced that an anti-family planning amendment offered by Rep. Ernest Istook Jr. (R-OK) which said that teen-agers would have to obtain written parental consent before they could receive any service from a Title X family planning clinic. The bill, the FY 1997 appropriations for programs conducted by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, authorized $192.6 million for Title X family planning programs.
Human Embryo Research - Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) offered an amendment on the floor of the House during the HHS appropriations debate to to strike the ban on human embryo research, to codify the president's guidelines which allowed research on extra embryos that were created for in vitro fertilization, but did not allow embryos to be created solely for the purpose of research. The amendment went down, 167-256.
Women in prison and women federal employees - Restrictive language prohibiting abortions for women in federal prisons, except in the cases of rape or life of the woman, was retained in the FY 97 Commerce, Justice, State, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. An attempt may be made from the floor by an abortion rights supporter to strike the language when the bill comes up for a vote this week. The same restrictive language for women federal employees' health insurance was retained in the FY 97 Treasury, Postal, and General Government Operations bill. A floor effort to strike the language may also occur.
FDA Emergency Contraceptive Relabeling
The Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined on June 28th that certain oral contraceptives are "safe and effective" to use in a postcoital or "emergency" situation. Twenty years of studies have indicated that the emergency use of these contraceptives reduce the risk of pregnancy by 75 percent. Experts estimate that as much as 2.3 unintended pregnancies could be avoided and that one million abortions could be prevented with use of the emergency contraceptive. Because the contraceptives have not been labeled for emergency or 'morning after' use, many women are unaware of this option. The manufacturers of these contraceptive drugs had not sought the re-labeling; abortion rights groups, including NOW, petitioned the FDA to take this action pressed for the action by the FDA in the interests of women's reproductive health.
The Food and Drug Administration's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee is scheduled to hold a public meeting on July 19th to consider safety and efficacy for mifepristone, the U.S. version of RU-486 which is an early abortion drug. Anti-abortion members of Congress may try to attach restrictive language to a Food and Drug Administration "reform" bill (S. 1477) that will come to the floor mid- to late July.
Violence Against Women Funding
In the House-passed appropriations measure for the Department of Health and Human Services, funding for some Violence Against Women (VAWA) programs is slightly less than the president had requested ($6.5 million less for rape prevention/education, $900,000 less for community education programs). However, an amendment from the floor by Rep. Dick Chrysler (R-MI) boosted the funding for battered women's shelter construction from the requested $25 million to $27.4 million. The overall HHS funding for VAWA programs is $63.4 million. Justice Department programs were also somewhat reduced ($197.5 million) over the president's requested amount of $197.95 million, with fewer funds designated for video testimony by victims of child abuse. The Justice appropriations bill may go to the floor of the House the week of July 22nd.
Let your representatives and senators know about your strong support of full funding for VAWA programs.
The Legislative Update was compiled by the Government Relations/Public Policy Team at the National NOW office. Call Jan Erickson, Government Relations Direction, at (202) 628-8669, ex. 725, if you have any questions. For copies of any of the above bills, call your Senator or Representative at 202 224-3121, who will send you copies free of charge. The update is mailed monthly to NOW leadership. Any member can get a copy of this update mailed to them for a yearly charge of $25. Tell friends that they can read this Legislative Update at http://www.now.org/issues/legislat/legislat.html . Or, they may receive it by e-mail if they join our Action Alert list.