President Obama had been seeking ways to circumvent the 1996 welfare work requirements since coming to office, according to a 2009 memo released Tuesday by Representative David Camp (R–MI) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT).
“From the first year the Obama Administration took power, it was trying to find any legal and policy justification to permit the weakening of welfare reforms that demand work in exchange for government benefits,” said Hatch in a press release on Tuesday. “They used states’ desire for flexibility as a stalking horse to justify this massive executive branch power grab.”
Last July, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services released an official policy directive effectively gutting work requirements from the successful welfare reform of 1996. The Administration claimed it was simply responding to states’ requests for flexibility to implement innovations. However, the memo released Tuesday shows that the White House was actively looking to waive the work requirements much earlier—and that the Administration “sought authority to waive much more than just work requirements.”
“I’ve been more than a little skeptical of the Obama Administration’s argument that they were purely responding to the needs of the states when they unilaterally chose to undermine welfare work requirements, and this memo confirms my skepticism,” said Hatch.
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. But Congress intended that those requirements be absolutely mandatory in all instances and specifically withheld any authority to weaken or waive them. Waiving the work requirements that are at the center of the 1996 welfare reform is…a violation of the President’s constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Waivers are not innovation, but they do go against the letter and intent of one of the most successful social reforms in recent U.S. history. After work requirements were put into place, welfare rolls dropped by half, poverty among female-headed homes with children declined by 30 percent, and child poverty rates among African-Americans dipped to their lowest levels in history. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families rolls remain 57 percent below pre-reform levels despite the 2007 recession.
“The welfare work requirement was part of the overwhelmingly successful 1996 welfare reforms that led to more work and earnings and less poverty and dependence,” said Camp. “It is clear that from the outset of his presidency, President Obama and his advisors searched for ways to increase benefits and disconnect them from work.”
Instead of destroying the successful bipartisan work requirements of 1996, President Obama and Congress should seek ways to transform the current 80 means-tested welfare programs into vehicles of opportunity, not dependence.