Oregon’s registered voters soundly reject key components of the Bush Administration’s plan to change welfare, according to a poll to be released today, the sixth anniversary of the federal welfare reform law. The 1996 federal welfare reform law is up for reauthorization in Congress this year. The next battleground will be a Senate vote on proposals that reject the Bush Administration’s plan.
The poll, conducted by Davis, Hibbitts & McCaig, Inc. for the Oregon Center for Public Policy, showed strong support for welfare families to receive education, training, and child care, support for assuring equal access to public benefits for legal immigrants, opposition to promoting marriage, and opposition to increasing work requirements.
“The Bush Administration’s plan for changing key parts of the welfare system is not supported by the vast majority of Oregon voters. The findings send a loud and clear message to Senators Smith and Wyden,” said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. Sheketoff noted that the measure is currently pending in the U.S. Senate and is expected to be voted on after the August recess.
EDUCATION, TRAINING AND CHILD CARE ARE TOP PRIORITY
“Oregon voters want more opportunities for welfare families to move from welfare to good jobs through education, training, and child care assistance,” said Sheketoff.
When asked whether tougher work requirements or expanded training, education, child care, and other support programs should be a priority, 75% chose expanding education, training and work supports. Only one-fifth supported tougher work requirements proposed by the Bush Administration.
Education, training and child care enjoyed bipartisan support. Two-thirds of Republican voters agreed that expanding work supports was a higher priority than implementing stronger work requirements.
This broad agreement on the importance of education and training is evident throughout the survey findings. About nine out of ten voters (88%) say they favor fulfilling work requirements through education, seven out of ten voters (71%) say child care and cash assistance should continue to be provided to poor single parents pursuing two- or four-year college degrees, and six out of ten voters (61%) say the state should help welfare recipients get better paying jobs rather than requiring them to take the first job offered.
Few Oregonians supported the priorities of the Bush Administration: only 12% chose more strictly enforcing a five-year limit on benefits, only 11% chose implementing tougher work requirements, and a mere 6% chose promoting marriage as Congress’ top priority.
MARRIAGE PROMOTION REJECTED
The Bush Administration is pushing a proposal to direct federal funds to government programs that promote marriage. Ninety percent of Oregon voters say that new federal welfare funds should help move people to good jobs rather than encourage them to marry. This is true for Democrats (93%), Republicans (85%), and Independent voters (92%). When asked to choose between channeling new federal funds to child care or to programs encouraging marriage, a majority of voters (59%) opposed a focus on marriage. Those most likely to support marriage programs are Republicans and those whose highest degree is a high-school diploma. Even in these groups, however, a majority oppose making marriage promotion a priority for federal welfare spending.
INCREASED WORK REQUIREMENTS REJECTED
One of the sharpest differences between the House and Senate TANF reauthorization legislation is whether work requirements should be increased from 30 hours a week to 40. Two-thirds (69%) of Oregon registered voters favor keeping the current requirement (77% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans, and 71% of Independents). When asked if work requirements for mothers with children under 6 should be increased, support for maintaining current requirements increased to 78% (80% of Democrats, 77% of Republicans, and 78% of Independents).
“Oregonians of all political stripes reject the Bush plan to increase work requirements,” said Sheketoff.
VOTERS SUPPORT PUBLIC BENEFITS FOR RECENT IMMIGRANTS
The 1996 federal welfare law restricted non-citizens’ access to federally-funded public benefits, including Medicaid (the Oregon Health Plan). Since then the ban has been amended to allow some lawful immigrants to obtain these federal public benefits. One issue pending in Congress is whether to reinstate public benefits, including Medicaid (the Oregon Health Plan) for recent, lawful immigrants.
A majority of Oregon voters (53%) support allowing legal immigrants access to temporary public benefits and the Oregon Health Plan. While Republican voters are split on this issue (44% yes; 44% no), Independents and Democrats are supportive (62% and 55% respectively). The strongest supporters are the wealthiest Oregonians, those earning over $100,000 (63%).
“It is time for both Senators Smith and Wyden to lift the restriction on providing public benefits to recent lawful immigrants. They must pay taxes and can serve in the military, there is no reason to continue the ban,” said Sheketoff. “It’s only fair.”
The U.S. House of Representatives already passed a bill to reauthorize the 1996 welfare law that incorporates proposals from the Bush Administration. Reauthorization is now in the Senate, where the Senate Finance Committee has rejected the House proposal. Oregon Senator Gordon Smith is considered an important “swing” vote in the federal welfare reform debate.