This afternoon, the House voted to restore the work requirements that the Obama Administration has attempted to gut from the 1996 welfare reform law. The breakdown: 250 Republicans voted for restoration and 164 Democrats voted against the resolution.
The 1996 reform inserted work requirements into the largest federal cash assistance welfare program, replacing the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law was not only very popular, but it also worked: Stagnant welfare rolls declined by half within five years of the law’s implementation, employment among welfare recipients soared, and child poverty rates declined to their lowest levels in history.
However, since the law was put into place, liberals have attempted to eliminate the work requirement. Not able to accomplish this goal through the legislative process, the Obama Administration is now attempting to do so through executive fiat. In July, the Administration released a directive from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announcing that states would be able to waive the law’s work requirements.
Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), who sponsored today’s resolution, has been a leading voice on this issue.
Immediately following HHS’s announcement that it would offer work waivers, Representative Camp stated that allowing states to “effectively eliminate a key feature of that [welfare] reform—the TANF work requirement…is a brazen and unwarranted unraveling of welfare reform. This ends welfare reform as we know it.”
Representative Camp, along with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), has challenged the Administration’s attempt to gut welfare reform.
In response to such criticism, the Obama Administration has not only denied that it is attempting to waive work requirements, but it has even claimed that it is strengthening them. In today’s floor speeches, liberals such Representative George Miller (D-CA) and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) continued these faulty assertions, insisting that the Administration’s plan will in fact increase the required number of “employment welfare exits.”
However, as Heritage’s Robert Rector asserts, the Administration’s “employment exits” measure “is a bogus and misleading measure of workfare and dependency reduction.” It is not the same as the law’s work requirement. Rector explains:
These statistics, although they sound impressive, are meaningless as a measure of success in welfare reform. How can that be? The answer is that welfare caseloads always have routine turnover.
Because of routine turnover, the larger the caseload, the greater the number of employment exits. More people leave welfare simply because there were more on to begin with.
This type of “bogus” measure was commonly used the four decades prior to welfare reform, during which time welfare rolls remained stagnant. After the 1996 work requirements were put into place, the welfare caseload dropped by half within five years. Now, the Obama Administration is attempting to roll back the clock and reinstate the same standards that contributed to the failure of the pre-reform welfare system.
The Administration’s actions are an affront to the law, an affront to taxpayers who will be required to support more able-bodied adults on welfare, and an affront to welfare recipients who will be left to languish on government dependence. TANF work requirements should be restored and strengthened, and should expanded to other government welfare programs.