Reinstating Welfare Work Requirements

The pushback against the Obama administration’s illegal effort to gut welfare reform work requirements continues. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), Education & Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have introduced the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act, which would prohibit the Health and Human Services (HHS) from providing states waivers for welfare work requirements.

Last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius encouraged states to seek “waivers” of work requirements for welfare recipients from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In 1996, this program was reformed by a Republican-led Congress (influenced by The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector) which ultimately forced President Clinton to sign the overhaul into law. The reforms enacted resulted in declines of government dependence, including:

  • Significant increases in the employment and earnings of single mothers;
  • Record declines in welfare dependency as TANF rolls fell by more than 57 percent; and
  • Significant reductions in child poverty in female-headed households, which even after the impact of a deep recession are still below pre-reform levels.

President Obama and his administration decided to undermine those reforms, by illegally changing the law without the consent of Congress. The 1996 reforms created new work requirements and included a provision which stated: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.” The law explicitly prohibits the very type of waivers that President Obama has just granted, putting him in violation of the law.

The Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act would reverse this illegal act – essentially reaffirming Congress’s original intent – by prohibiting the Secretary of HHS from:

  • Implementing or taking action on its guidance memo dated July 12, 2012 on TANF waivers relating to compliance with TANF work requirements, and;
  • Authorizing, approving, renewing, modifying or extending any experimental, pilot, or demonstration project that waives compliance with TANF work requirements.

The legislation would also rescind any waiver granted by the HHS for this purpose prior to this law being enacted.

Congressmen Camp, Kline and Jordan, as well as Senator Hatch, should be commended for their leadership. We must reinstate the welfare work requirements, which were the bedrock of the 1996 reforms that were so successful on weaning those on welfare away from government dependence by promoting strong work ethics.

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