September 13, 1996
The anti-same sex marriage bill, otherwise known as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (S. 1740/H.R. 3396), passed the Senate on September 10th by vote of 85 to 14, with all Republicans and 32 Democrats voting in support. No amendments were allowed and the vote came after hours of debate that was more civil than the extremist debate heard in the House prior to DOMA's passage (342-67) in July. Those Senate members who opposed DOMA are: Sens. Daniel Akaka (HI), Barbara Boxer (CA), Russell Feingold (WI), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Daniel Inouye (HI), Edward Kennedy (MA), Bob Kerrey (NE), John Kerry (MA), Carol Moseley-Braun (IL), Daniel Moynihan (NY), Caliborne Pell (RI), Charles Robb (VA), Paul Simon (IL), and Ron Wyden (OR). The legislation affirms that states do not have to recognize same sex unions that other states may make legal. No state currently recognizes same sex marriages and 15 states have passed laws prohibiting same sex marriage.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA, S. 2056), which prohibits discrimination against lesbians and Gay men in the workplace, nearly passed with a vote of 49 to 50. Eight Republicans (Chaffee (RI), Cohen (ME), D'Amato (NY), Hatfield (OR), Jeffords (VT), Simpson (WY), Snowe (ME), Specter (PA)) joined 41 Democratic Senators in support. Democrats Byrd (WV), Exon (NE), Ford (KY), and Heflin (AL) opposed ENDA. The latter measure, though not a perfect bill, would have been an important advance as job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is legal in 41 states. The President has said he will sign DOMA; however, it will likely be challenged on constitutional grounds.
Thank Senators who voted on the right side of this issue, letting other members know of your opposition to discriminatory legislation like DOMA. The President, obviously, needs some basic education on the matter and letters or calls prior to his signing the measure may be useful.
Even though it could come up at any time before then, the House vote to override the President's veto of the Late-Term Abortion bill (H.R. 1833) is slated for Thursday, Sept. 19th. Predictions are that it will be very close with a number of members who earlier voted against the prohibition now re-considering their positions. Election year politics has put additional pressure members concerning this issue. The Christian Coalition, National Catholic Conference of Bishops, and the National Right to Life Committee are all planning public events in Washington in mid-September, including prayer vigils on the Capitol steps and a lobby day to visit with members on this and other abortion votes.
NOW activists are urged to make contact as soon as possible with their representatives to oppose the override vote. For Democrats, the message is that "it is important to support the President" on the late term abortion ban veto. House members who need to hear from reproductive rights supporters are all Democratic members and all pro-choice Republican members.
Action on appropriations bills which have abortion riders has resumed now that Congress has come back into session following the August recess. The Senate voted (83-15) on September 5th to pass the conference report on the District of Columbia's FY 97 federal funding, with the usual rider prohibiting use of either federal or locally-raised monies from be used to provide abortion services for low-income women.
Also, the Senate approved by 53-45 the FY 97 Treasury, Postal Service Appropriations which had a rider banning abortion coverage in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Package which covers about 1.1 million women between the ages of 15 to 45. The provision had been removed in a Senate committee, prior to the floor vote, but opponents managed to get it re-inserted.
FY 97 Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations will be considered the same week on the floor of the Senate and rumor has it that abortion rights proponents will try to delete the House-supported provision banning the use of federal funds for women in prison, except when cases of rape or a life-threatening condition are present.
Call members of your delegation as they prepare to vote on these measures to remind them of your opposition to restrictive abortion riders.
On August 22, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 Conference Report to accompany H.R. 3734, the controversial legislation which repeals the 60 year old social safety net for the poor and requires welfare recipients to work. The legislation is very much like H.R. 4, the previous welfare bill that the President vetoed at the urging of NOW and other advocacy organizations. And, like the previous bill, the President received severe criticism from community activists, women's rights, social service advocacy, labor, minority, and religious groups in embracing this Republican-led effort to change the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. In response, the nominee promised at the Democratic National Convention that he would to make welfare reform "successful" by helping to create a million new jobs by the year 2000, with tax credits for companies who hire welfare recipients and from state plans which may utilize "savings" from welfare program cuts to create jobs for recipients.
In addition to massive funding cuts of $60 billion over six years in programs that would supply cash assistance and food stamps, the "reform" plan ends the welfare entitlement (the federal guarantee of assistance to the poor), requires recipients to find work within two years or perform community service, mandates a minimum of 30 work hours per week (for parents with children over age 6), imposes a lifetime limit on receipt of aid, and rewards states with financial bonuses for reducing their caseloads. The new act establishes a block grant program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), funded at $16.4 billion for the period of 1997 through 2002, to replace Aid to Families with Children (AFDC), the cash assistance program which previously helped millions of poor families. Each state will now receive a lump sum of federal money to run its own welfare and work programs; many states have already filed waiver applications with the federal government outlining their new approaches to aid for the poor. Some waiver programs are even more restrictive in their requirements for poor families than is the new federal law. States have until July 1, 1997 to submit a plan to the federal government detailing how they will structure their welfare programs under TANF.
The core policy is a personal work requirement where the "head" of every family on welfare must work within two years, or the family will lose benefits. After receiving cash assistance or other help for two months, adults must begin performing community service work unless they have found regular jobs. However, states may choose not to establish a community service work requirement. There is now a lifetime welfare benefits limitation of five cumulative years, which states may reduce.
Welfare spending must be maintained by the states at 75 percent of their 1994 level, but states that do not meet goals for employment of welfare recipients will lose part of their welfare block grant money from the federal government. The penalty is a block grant reduction of 5 percent in the first year rising to 21 percent in the ninth year. States are offered a "work program performance" bonus of $1 billion, if they reach welfare recipient employment goals by the year 2003. "Innovative" state welfare programs may continue under federal waivers granted before October 1, 1996, even if they do not meet all terms of the new act.
Some provisions attempt to ease the transition. A contingency fund of $2 billion (with a trigger based on the food stamp caseload) was established to meet increased poverty and economic recessions in individual states. Twenty percent of recipient families may be exempted from the five year limitation because of hardship. Women with children under age 6 are only required to work 20 hours per week and those who can't find child care will be exempted (although previous versions passed by both the House and Senate allowed exemptions for women with children under age 11). States have the authority to excuse single parents with children under a year old from meeting the work requirements for 12 months. Social services block grant money can be used for vouchers to buy goods and services for children in families cut off of cash welfare as a state option (but that funding was reduced 15 percent from the present level to now total $2.8 billion a year).
The new law denies cash aid to most legal immigrants who are not citizens and states may restrict Medicaid eligibility for those individuals. Noncitizens and their dependents are still eligible for Head Start, job training programs, student loans, and certain health programs. But they will be denied food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) until they become citizens of the U.S.
There is no major revision of the Medicaid program -- something that Republicans had wanted but the President had threatened to veto the bill if this was included -- so health care coverage for poor women and children remains with current eligibility standards. The final version does specify that states must provide Medicaid coverage to all families that meet their state's July, 1996, AFDC income and asset standards. There is transitional Medicaid assistance for up to 12 months for families whose income increases due to higher earnings or collection of child support.
The Family Violence Amendment, offered by Senators Paul Wellstone (MN), Paul Simon (IL), and Patty Murray (WA) and promoted by NOW, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and other groups, was adopted in the Senate (with a similar resolution adopted in the House as part of a budget measure). The conference committee inexplicably omitted the provision, which would have allowed states to waive or modify strict requirements of the new welfare law for persons experiencing physical battering, mental abuse, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect. Work requirements, time limits, denial of assistance to teen parents, and other limiting provisions may be waived by states when they jeopardize the safety of welfare recipients who are victims of family violence.
States are required to develop plans to reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births in their state and will be penalized for any increase in the number of abortions. The federal entitlement to child care services for those involved in work activities was deleted in the legislation, but child care quality standards were maintained. Various child support enforcement measures were strengthened, including a new requirement that states provide information on all child support orders to a national registry to facilitate interstate tracking of delinquent parents.
Additionally, the Attorney General is required under the new law to prepare a study documenting the connection between teen pregnancy and statutory rape and the Office of Violence Against Women is directed to address this issue. An appropriation of $75 million for a federal abstinence program was made in the bill; any programs supported by these funds will be required to teach that abstinence is the only way to prevent out-of-wedlock births and sexually-transmitted diseases.
Inflexible Requirements/Inadequate Transitional Funding
The National Organization for Women opposed this legislation because it imposes inflexible limitations and requirements on millions of welfare recipients --many of whom are women with few employable skills, insufficient education, literacy problems, experiencing domestic violence and trauma, or likely to have small children with little access to child care services. In addition, NOW feared that with new requirements for states to reduce the welfare rolls, recipients would be pushed into workfare jobs paying sub-minimum wages inadequate to support a family or that they would not be able to find jobs in economically depressed areas. With no safety net and expanded restrictions on funding and eligibility, some poor women who are not able to find work will have no alternative support. Funding for education, job training, and transitional support have not been increased to meet this huge potential demand.
Entitlement Eliminated/New Limits Imposed
Under the block grant approach no family will be assured of welfare aid even if the family meets all necessary eligibility requirements. States will be required to restrict eligibility through time limits and other requirements, and will be free to impose even more stringent restrictions, including shorter time limits and categorical ineligibility for certain vulnerable groups such as teen mothers. States have the option of stopping payments to unmarried teen-age parents, and can stipulate that to receive assistance mothers under 18 must stay in school and live with an adult or receive adult supervision.
Rush to Get the Poor off Assistance
States will begin to get block grant funding by October 1 and NOW's fear is that they will immediately begin to identify recipients or applicants who can be eliminated from the welfare rolls, since the states are getting 25% less money. The state work performance bonus may mean that recipients could be willy-nilly shoved into workfare jobs which may be only temporary or very low paying and have little future for promotional advancement. Millions of former welfare recipients could form an enormous underclass of low-skilled, desperate workers that are easily exploited and which would ultimately bring down wages for other groups.
Illegitimacy Ratio/Paternity Proof Requirements Intrusive
Other new provisions are intrusive and would have undesirable consequences, such as the illegitimacy ratio which gives states the incentives to reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births, while still not increasing the number of abortions. States can receive 'bonus grants' of up to $25 million each. That could mean even more restricted access to abortion or the encouragement of undocumented abortions (and potentially unsafe procedures). Under the new rules, a woman on welfare who refuses to co-operate in identifying the father of her child will lose at least 25 percent of her benefits. This latter change has dangerous implications for domestic violence survivors who may not want to invite any contact with former batterers.
States May Adopt Punishing Family Cap
The onerous 'family cap,' a provision which would have denied any assistance to additional children born to parents on welfare, was deleted due to procedural rules in the Senate and was not included in the conference report. This was a victory for NOW and other women's rights and child welfare advocates who had strongly opposed it. However, states may add a family cap on their own. This particular feature was identified as cruel to children and potentially impoverishing. But, it should be noted, that states may also elect pay additional benefits to cover children born to women already on welfare, as some states do. With fewer federal resources and the added responsibility of getting recipients into jobs, it is less likely that states will have sufficient funds for this and other mitigating efforts.
Domestic Violence Complicates Welfare
Another major concern for NOW relates to battered women who constitute a sizeable percentage of the welfare population. Soon after the welfare bill was signed, news broke that a study conducted by Harvard Medical School and University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, MA, found that 92% of homeless women and 82% of welfare recipient women with homes reported experiences of severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives. The lifetime prevalence of violence found among the welfare mothers in this study is much higher than the frequency of 20 to 40 percent reported in the general population, according to principle author Ellen L. Bassuk, president of Better Homes Fund of Newton, MA. Also, the incidence of psychological trauma such as major depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were about twice the level found in the general population.
During the welfare debate, NOW consistently pointed out to the President and Congress that inflexible limitations and requirements for welfare recipients mean that women attempting to escape violent situations could be further endangered and would suffer due to other program changes, such as loss of health care coverage. The 20% hardship exemption under new welfare law --permitted for persons who "have been battered or suffered extreme cruelty"-- is obviously deficient. More importantly, the high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault that are reported by women receiving public assistance would far exceed the 20% exemption, potentially excluding them from consideration of other types of hardship cases, such as persons suffering from a serious illness or other severe condition.
Senators Paul Wellstone (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Paul Simon (D-IL) offered helpful amendments which passed the Senate, but were dropped in the final conference report. These changes would have protected battered women in a number of ways, such as
providing a mechanism for screening and identifying recipients with a history of domestic violence; offering referrals for counseling and support services and requiring states to waive (with good cause) other program requirements such as time limits, residency requirements, child support cooperation requirements, and family cap provisions. A second amendment attempted to improve the situation of battered immigrant women, and included disposing of the "deeming" requirement if the immigrant's sponsor is the batterer.
Additionally, under the Violence Against Women Act, immigrant women and their children were eligible for transitional public assistance in order to help them escape a violent situation. However, this assistance was denied in the final welfare bill, despite protests from NOW, NOW/LDEF, domestic violence program and immigrant advocates. The cost of this program was minor at $334,301 per year but it had the critical potential of saving lives.
Nutrition Programs Slashed
As noted, the food stamp program was not transformed to a block grant program, but its funding was severely trimmed ($27.7 billion cut), jeopardizing the nutrition and health of millions of children, working families, and the elderly. Critics assert that these cuts eliminate the program's ability to respond to economic changes and that hunger is likely to increase. An Urban Institute report, issued in the final days of deliberation on the bill, identified cuts in the food stamps program as a major reason for a projected increase in poverty rates. The institute was estimated that this welfare 'reform' would push 2.6 million deeper into poverty, including 1.1 million children.
Another change: able-bodied childless adults, aged 18 to 50, who are not working can receive food stamps for only three months in any three year period, with only a three month extension if the person is laid off work. Immigrant children will still be able to eat school lunches, according to changes in the final bill, although Republican members had tried to prohibit this.
Child Care Funding Inadequate
A strong effort was made in the House to repeal current child care health and safety protections potentially exposing millions of children to poorly regulated child care environments. Fortunately, the Senate opposed this move and the conference report deleted the regressive provisions. Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) pushed for maintaining the standards, which are part of the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. Also, Sen. Dodd and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-VT) assured that funding was increased to meet a new four percent (of total child care funds in each state program) required minimum spending for increased quality and accessibility. Close to $14 billion over a six year period is identified as mandatory spending for a newly consolidated block grant, with an additional $1 billion allowed in annual appropriations. However, the federal entitlement to child care services for welfare recipients engaged in work activities was deleted. Even at the higher levels specified in the act, child care funding is likely to be inadequate given the new large demand. Many welfare moms going to work will have to rely on family and friends -- a less dependable form of care.
Some Improvements to Medicaid
As noted, there was no fundamental re-structuring of the Medicaid program and current standards for eligibility are retained, but states do have the option to cut Medicaid benefits for those persons who do not satisfy the work requirements. An improvement in the bill was made when a mandate was added: states must provide Medicaid coverage for one year for families that have lost eligibility for cash welfare because of increased earnings. Some low- income pregnant women will continue to be eligible for pregnancy-related care and poor children under age 13 will continue to be eligible for general Medicaid coverage.
Even so, critics fear that Medicaid coverage for 4 million persons, including the 1.3 million children is threatened, adding millions to the already huge total of uninsured Americans. The new restrictions will mean the eventual loss of health care coverage because few of the women to be denied assistance will find jobs that provide health insurance benefits for themselves and families. This, critics note, is a dangerous health policy leading to increased and costly emergency room care and shifting the burden to those who have insurance.
Substance Abuse and Treatment Limited
A particularly onerous provision was adopted in the bill: states must refuse cash assistance and food stamps to people convicted of drug felonies, unless states explicitly adopt different policies. Pregnant women and adults in drug treatment programs are not denied assistance. Original language in the legislation would have prohibited all types of federal mean-tested assistance to persons convicted of felony drug offenses, even misdemeanor offenders would have been denied benefits for five years. These benefits covered the range of low-income assistance programs, like medical benefits, and even access to some drug treatment programs. Although the final version softens these harsh proposals (including limiting the ban to only felony offenders), the changes still make it difficult for low-income substance abusers to get help. Women experiencing domestic violence sometimes resort to drug and alcohol use to mitigate emotional trauma and impact on this group could be severe.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Slashed
Stricter eligibility standards were adopted in the final version that will have the effect of excluding many disabled children in low income families seeking Supplemental Security Income assistance. Some projections estimated the number affected at over 300,000 and about 50,000 of those children will also lose access to Medicaid.
Immigrant Provisions Unfair
Future legal immigrants who have not become citizens would be ineligible for most Federal welfare benefits and social services during their first five years in the U.S. (After that, they generally become eligible for citizenship.) Supplemental Security Income and food stamps would end for noncitizens now receiving benefits. Other new restrictions now apply. Critics say that these bans would deny benefits to about 300,000 immigrant children and would affect many more children whose parents are denied assistance, shifting costs to the states. Some states, such as California, Texas, New York and Florida, where immigrant populations are high would be hard hit by these changes.
Consequences for Job Seekers
New requirements in the act amount to huge unfunded mandates to states to create jobs --something many states are not prepared to do. For large population states where there are sizeable numbers of welfare recipients, there could be serious budgetary repercussions. Consequences to millions of new job seekers flooding the labor market may involve the wholesale creation of meaningless, low paying makework or workfare jobs, with little or no opportunity for advancement. With absolute requirements for recipients to take a job --any job, at any pay-- other workers may be displaced (although the new act does provide some limited protections regarding worker displacement).
All 53 Senate Republicans voted for the conference report, joined by 25 Democrats: Baucus (MT), Biden (DE), Breaux (LA), Bryan (NV), Byrd (WV), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Exon (NE), Feingold (WI), Ford (KY), Graham (FL), Harkin (IA), Heflin (AL), Hollings (SC), Johnson (LA), Kerry (MA), Kohl (WI), Levin (MI), Lieberman (CT), Mikulski (MD), Nunn (GA), Robb (VA), Rockefeller (WV), and Wyden (OR). Democrats voting against were: Akaka (HI), Bingaman (NM), Boxer (CA), Bradley (NJ), Bumpers (AR), Daschle (SD), Dodd (CT), Feinstein (CA), Glenn (OH), Inouye (HI), Kennedy (MA), Kerrey (NE), Lautenberg (NJ), Leahy (VT), Moseley-Braun (IL), Moynihan (NY), Murray (WA), Pell (RI), Sarbanes (MD), Simon (IL), and Wellstone (MN). Sen. Pryor of Arkansas did not vote.
In the House, the final vote was 328-101 with the no votes primarily from Democrats as follows: Hilliard (AL), Pastor (AZ), Becerra, Beilenson, Berman, Brown, Dellums, Dixon, Eshoo, Farr, Filner, Lantos, Lofgren, Martinez, Matsui, Millender-McDonald, Miller, Pelosi, Roybal-Allard, Stark, Torres, Waters, Waxman, Woolsey -- all (CA), Schroeder (CO), Delauro (CT), Dias-Balart (R), Ross-Lehtinen (R), Young (R)-not voting, Brown, Gibbons, Hastings, Johnson, Meek -- all (FL), Lewis, McKinney (GA), Abercrombie, Mink (HI), Collins, Evans, Gutierrez, Jackson, Rush, Yates -- all (IL), Jacobs (IN), Fields, Jefferson (LA), Cummings (MD), Frank, Kennedy, Markey, Moakley, Olver, Studds -- all (MA), Bonior, Collins, Conyers (MI), Oberstar, Sabo (MN), Thompson (MS), Clay, Gephart (MO), Williams (MT), Menendez, Payne (NJ), Engel, Flake-not voting, Hinchey, LaFalce, Maloney, McNulty, Nadler, Owens, Rangel, Schumer, Serrano, Slaughter, Towns, Velasquez -- all (NY), Clayton, Watt (NC), Brown, Hall, Stokes (OH), Blumenauer (OR), McDade(R)-not voting, Coyne, Fattah, Foglietta (PA), Kennedy (RI), Clyburn (SC), Ford (D)-not voting (TN), Coleman, Gonzalez, Green, Jackson Lee, E.J. Johnson, Ortiz, Tejeda (TX), Sanders (VT), Scott (VA),McDermott (WA), Mollohan, Rahall (WV), and Gunderson (R)-not voting, Barrett, Obey (WI).
NOW activists concerned about the immediate and long term impacts of these dramatic changes in public assistance programs should continue to press members of Congress and the President to adopt changes to make provisions less onerous for women, especially battered women. Specifically, members can ask President Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to encourage states to adopt the Family Violence Amendment Similarly, you can urge Governors and State Legislators to incorporate this amendment into state welfare programs. States are currently reviewing waiver plans and the numerous implications of the new act on their state budgets and social services program operations.
At the federal level, observers say that there will be little movement towards major changes until after the November elections. But NOW activists should press for measures addressing the massive need for jobs creation, with the attendant need for increasing funding for training, education, transition, child care, and domestic violence programs.
For combating domestic violence among welfare recipients, policy makers are advised to apply the Family Violence Amendment to ensure that states grant good cause waivers of work requirements in cases of battering or extreme cruelty will not face financial penalties for failing to meet participation rates. It will be necessary to urge that the federal government provide discretionary funding to states to study the incidence of violence in the lives of welfare recipients; the impact of domestic violence on welfare program rules and requirements; and the best assessment, referral, and delivery models to improve safety and self-sufficiency for battered welfare recipients. Also, it will be important to provide discretionary funding to states for model programs in the states to implement the Family Violence Amendment and provide technical assistance and ongoing support to every state seeking to implement the Family Violence Amendment.
This Legislative Update was compiled by the Government Relations/Public Policy Team at the National NOW office. Call Jan Erickson, Government Relations Director, at 202-628-8669, ex. 725, if you have any questions. To receive free of charge copies of any of the above bills, connect to Thomas or call your Senator or Representative at (202) 224-3121. The update is mailed monthly to NOW leadership. Any member can receive a copy of this Update by mail 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 .