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Bush: Faith groups have role in welfare plan

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday defended the philosophy behind his vision to overhaul welfare, which calls for the involvement of faith-based organizations to help "people help themselves."

Speaking to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Charlotte, Bush said he has asked for legislation "that will encourage charitable giving and at the same time allow faith-based organizations to access federal dollars without discrimination, without causing the faith-based organization to abandon faith."

"I believe there are neighborhood healers and helpers all across America who want to love their neighbor just like they love themselves," Bush said, and they "ought to be encouraged rather than thwarted."

The president said it makes sense to encourage a church, synagogue or mosque to help a person in need. Someone hooked on alcohol, for example, might need a change of heart, and people of faith could tackle such a problems better than government, he contended.

"It is essential that we rally the armies of compassion all across the country," he said.

"And I talked to Sen. [Tom] Daschle about this this morning, and he wrote a very positive editorial about the need for faith-based programs in our society. I hope they get this legislation passed and to my desk."

On Tuesday, the president unveiled his $19 billion welfare plan, which builds on and expands the 1996 welfare law, encouraging not only moving more welfare recipients to the work force but also the development of two-parent families and more flexibility for local agencies.

Bush said Wednesday that a welfare program should help people who receive assistance to get back to work, enabling them to seek job skills and trusting local officials to "manage the money necessary to achieve certain objectives and goals."

The Bush administration wants to stiffen work requirements for welfare recipients. The 1996 welfare law requires states to ensure that at least 50 percent of welfare recipients work. The president said he wants to raise that requirement by 5 percent a year until reaching 70 percent.

"I believe that, within five years, 70 percent of the welfare recipients must work," he said. "As part of the requirement, 70 percent of people being helped have got to get to work, and we'll help."

In addition, the Bush plan would require those recipients to work 40 hours a week, up from the current 30 hours. That total, however, could include time spent on education and training programs.

Requirements must allow adequate time for education, job training and drug rehabilitation. He said the system should encourage work by making sure people have skills to work. Public policy, Bush said, must encourage two-parent families through parenting and family programs at the local level.

"Our public policy must encourage families. Research shows that two-parent families are more likely to raise a child that's going to go to high school or college, that a child in a two-parent family is less likely to get addicted to drugs," Bush said. "We ought to aim for a goal, a goal that recognizes the power and importance of two-parent families in America."

Some of these programs would focus on premarital counseling, conflict resolution, gambling addiction and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Bush's proposal calls for $300 million to encourage local parent and family programs and $135 million for abstinence programs for young people.




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