The U.S. House is preparing to vote on a measure that would prevent the Obama administration from waiving work requirements that are the centerpiece of the 1996 welfare reform. The measure won approval today from the House Education and Workforce Committee.
The legislation (H.J.Res. 118) expresses disapproval with the July 12 directive from the Department of Health and Human Services and blocks the administration from moving forward with the plan. It comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office report that said the administration must submit its plan to Congress for review.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who will be in Washington next week to vote on the measure, told Scribe that he believes strongly in the 1996 law and will fight efforts to weaken it:
The waiver I don’t think meets the letter of the law. The law was not intended to allow states to waive the work requirements. The work requirements were actually made more stringent under the last reauthorization, so the Obama administration waiver, I believe, is not allowed under the law. Nevertheless, they proceeded, and that’s par for the course for this administration.
[The 1996 welfare reform law] is the crown jewel and the centerpiece of some of the most successful social policy legislation we’ve passed. It lowered child poverty rates, it moved people from welfare to work — because of these work requirements. And they’re proposing that states be allowed to waive them.
If states waive work requirements, people will not go from welfare to work. They will stay on welfare. That’s not good for anybody.
Since the July 12 announcement from HHS — first revealed by Heritage’s Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley — welfare work requirements have emerged as an important national debate.
Rector, who recently authored a report on poverty and ways to address it, has said the Obama administration’s decision will “end welfare reform as we know it.” He has also rebutted attempts by HHS to diminish the significance of the decision, which were picked up by former President Bill Clinton in his nationally televised speech last week.
Writing for the Washington Post, Rector explained the significance of the administration’s manuever:
The 1996 welfare reform law required that a portion of the able-bodied adults in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program — the successor to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program — work or prepare for work. Those work requirements were the heart of the reform’s success: Welfare rolls dropped by half, and the poverty rate for black children reached its lowest level in history in the years following.
But the Obama administration has jettisoned the law’s work requirements, asserting that, in the future, no state will be required to follow them. In place of the legislated work requirements, the administration has stated, it will unilaterally design its own “work” systems without congressional involvement or consent. Any state will be free to follow the new Obama requirements “in lieu of” the written statute.
The administration has provided no historical evidence showing that Congress intended to grant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or any part of the executive branch the authority to waive the TANF work requirements. The historical record is clear and states the opposite; as the summary of the reform prepared by Congress shortly after enactment plainly says: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”