Welfare Work Requirements Not Waiveable

The Heritage Foundation’s Andrew Grossman has written a Legal Memorandum on the Obama Administration’s recent directive to grant waivers to states in order to get out of the welfare work requirements included in the 1996 reforms. Not only does this undermine the letter and the spirit of the law – which cut the welfare rolls in half and increased the employment and salaries of low-income individuals – but it also runs contrary to the law:

“Under the guise of providing states greater ‘flexibility’ in operating their welfare programs, the Obama Administration now claims the authority to weaken or waive the work requirements that are at the heart of welfare reform. In particular, it argues that Section 1115, which provides waiver authority for states to establish demonstration projects, authorizes it to approve state programs that ‘test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407,’ including different ‘definitions of work activities and engagement.’ In this way, states could evade Section 407’s work-participation requirement without sacrificing federal funding.

“But the Obama Administration’s claim that it may weaken or waive work requirements is contrary to law. Section 407 establishes a stand-alone requirement for state welfare plans that brooks no exceptions, befitting its status as the core component of the 1996 reform. It is also absent from the list of requirements that may be waived under Section 1115. Indeed, to eliminate any possible ambiguity as to whether the work requirements could be waived immediately following passage of the 1996 reform, a separate provision specifically states that waivers ‘shall not affect the applicability of section [407].’

“The Obama Administration’s argument that the authority to waive a separate section that merely mentions Section 407 places all work requirements at the Administration’s mercy simply beggars belief.”

In short, what the Obama Administration has done is essentially gut the welfare reforms that have proven to work so well.

You can read the full memorandum here.


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