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House-Senate Conference Begins on Welfare Reform; Current Bills Will Deny Medicaid Benefits to Many PWAs!!

July 25, 1996

The Senate passed a welfare reform bill (H.R. 3734) on Tuesday, July 23, by a vote of 74-24. This bill will eliminate the entitlement status of a number of public assistance programs for the poorest Americans, the only "safety net" which keeps them from being completely destitute. The welfare reform bills (both House and Senate versions) will distribute federal aid to states in the form of block grants. Although the Senate bill is more moderate than the House bill (passed July 18, 256-170), it is still unacceptable. There are many disturbing provisions in these bills, including provisions (outlined below) which will have the most direct impact on the ability of very low-income people living with HIV/AIDS to access health care through Medicaid.

These "Welfare Reform" bills are incredibly complex and the broader politics of welfare reform are enormous. We believe our best hope as a community to influence this debate is to focus on those provisions that have the most direct impact on people living with HIV/AIDS.

The House-Senate conference committee is set to begin today, Thursday July 25th. Democrats will have little input in negotiations and the GOP leadership hopes to have a completed bill on the President's desk before the August recess (Aug. 2 - Sept. 3).

The following provisions in the Senate bill have direct impact on people living with HIV/AIDS:
CHAFEE-BREAUX AMENDMENT (passed 97-2): This amendment maintains Medicaid eligibility for women and children currently eligible for AFDC, even if the state's eligibility standards for AFDC change. This means that mothers and children who meet current income and resource standards for AFDC cash assistance will continue to be eligible for Medicaid, even if they become ineligible for AFDC because states choose to lower the AFDC income and resource eligibility standards. This amendment would not only apply to those currently eligible for Medicaid through AFDC, but would also prohibit states from lowering their income and resource eligibility standards for Medicaid in the future.

GRAMM (TX) AMENDMENT (passed 74-25): This amendment denies any federal means-tested benefits to individuals with convictions for drug use, possession, or distribution. This means that individuals with drug-related convictions would not be eligible for welfare, food stamps or Medicaid. The effect on PWAs is chilling, as nearly half of new HIV cases are the result of injection drug use. If convicted of a misdemeanor, an individual loses eligibility for these programs, including access to Medicaid-funded drug treatment programs, for five years. If convicted of a felony, the individual is denied eligibility for life.

DENYING IMMIGRANTS ACCESS TO BENEFITS: The welfare reform plan derives much of its savings through denying government assistance to legal immigrants. Under this bill, current legal immigrants would be ineligible to receive SSI and food stamps. New immigrants would be denied eligibility for these programs and Medicaid for five years. This ban would also apply to legal immigrants who become disabled after entering the country. Several amendments that would have softened these restrictions against legal immigrants failed on the Senate floor; nonetheless, these anti-immigrant provisions must be removed from the final conference report.

AIDS Action:

Ask the conferees to:

  1. Preserve the Chafee-Breaux amendment
  2. Drop the Gramm (TX) amendment
  3. Remove provisions denying immigrants access to benefits. Urge your members to do the right thing!

Senate Conferees:

Republicans: Chafee (RI), Cochran (MS), Lugar (IN), Roth (DE), Santorum (R-PA), Simpson (WY), Domenici (NM), Gramm (TX), Grassley (IA), Hatch (UT), Helms (NC), Kassebaum (KS). Democrats: Bradley (NJ), Dodd (CT), Pryor (AR), Rockefeller (WV), Exon (NE), Harkin (IA), Heflin (AL), Hollings (SC), Leahy (VT), and Moynihan (NY).

House Conferees:

Republicans: Kasich (OH), Archer (TX), Goodling (PA), Roberts (KS), Bliley (VA), Shaw (FL), Talent (MO), Nussle (IA), Hutchinson (AR), McCrery (LA), Bilirakis (FL), Smith (TX), Johnson (CT), Camp (MI), Franks (CT), Cunningham (CA), Castle (DE), Goodlatte (VA).

Democrats: Sabo (MN), Gibbons (FL), Conyers (MI), de la Garza (TX), Clay (MO), Ford (TN), Miller (CA), Waxman (CA), Stenholm (TX), Kennelly (CT), Levin (MI), Tanner (TN), Becerra (CA), Thurman (FL), and Woolsey (CA).

CALL PRESIDENT CLINTON TODAY! Tell the President to VETO this bill if the above provisions are not adequately addressed. Tell him that children with AIDS and their mothers cannot be left without access to health care through Medicaid. Tell the President that people with AIDS who have drug problems need our help, and we cannot and will not turn our backs on them. Urge the President to stand for compassion and dignity for all Americans.

President Clinton

Senate Switchboard:
Ask to be connected to you Senator's office. House Switchboard:
Ask to be connected to you Representative's office.

Remember: Take advantage of the congressional recess (August 2 - September 3) and schedule meetings with your members of congress, attend town meetings and/or campaign appearances. Stay tuned for further updates on Medicaid and Welfare reform. Also, next week AIDS Action will send you comprehensive information about our strategy for ensuring increases in FY 97 appropriations for federal AIDS programs before Congress adjourns in October.

[Paid for with contributions from AIDS Action Network Members]

For more information, contact:
Tracy Mickens-Hundley, Director of Community Outreach
AIDS Action Council
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW #700
Washington DC 20009
202-986-1300, extension 3053
202-986-1345 (fax)
202-332-9614 (tty)

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.
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