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House and Senate Republicans Unveil Legislation Prohibiting Obama Administration From Unilaterally Weakening Welfare Work Requirements

July 18, 2012

WASHINGTON – Today, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan), Education & Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minnesota), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation, the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act, that would prohibit the Obama Administration from unilaterally granting itself the authority to exempt states from the work requirements that were a critical element of welfare reform enacted in 1996 – potentially opening the door for activities like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to be counted as work for the purposes of complying with federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) requirements.
“The Obama Administration has once again overstepped its bounds, this time to the detriment of those struggling most under their failed economic policies.  The Administration’s unprecedented efforts to undo welfare reforms that resulted in higher earnings and employment for low-income Americans cannot be allowed to stand,” said Camp.  “This legislation, which I expect the House to consider in the coming days, simply reaffirms what the law already says – that the work requirements at the heart of welfare reform may not be waived.  I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting and passing this important bill and bringing a swift resolution to this matter.” 

“Under the guise of state flexibility, the president is eviscerating bipartisan reforms that have helped millions of Americans escape poverty.  Republicans will not stand by as the president once again chooses politics over reform,” said Kline.  “The Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act will protect the responsible work requirements established in the welfare reform law of 1996 while also prohibiting future administration efforts to waive or otherwise alter these successful requirements.”

“The Obama administration’s action last week was illegitimate and totally misguided,” said Jordan.  “Work requirements are tough love, and for sixteen years they have helped people to help themselves.  The 1996 reform model should be expanded to other areas of welfare, not cut off at the knees.”

“Gutting welfare work requirements with the stroke of a pen and without congressional input is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to stand,” said Hatch.  “Neither the Obama Administration nor any Administration should have the power to unilaterally change the law as it sees fit.  Work requirements were an essential part of the landmark 1996 Welfare Reform law and shouldn’t be scrapped at the whim of Washington bureaucrats.  This legislation restores critical welfare work requirements so Congress can thoroughly and thoughtfully examine the TANF program in a way that balances states’ concerns, while ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used to get people off welfare and on a path to self-sufficiency.  If the Administration is so sure that they have the authority to waive TANF work requirements, why are they dragging their feet in responding to Congress with the legal reasoning behind this action?”
Last Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued “guidance” to states about the TANF program that could undermine the critical work focus of welfare reform.  The HHS guidance attempts to explain how states can now seek “waivers” of work requirements for welfare recipients for the first time since the TANF program was created in the 1996 welfare reform law.  This HHS guidance is not in response to any change in TANF law.  Nor does it follow up on any proposal from the Obama Administration that seeks to make policy changes to TANF through the regular legislative process.  The TANF program was extended under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 through FY 2010.  The Obama Administration has not proposed a reauthorization of the TANF program and the program has been extended on a stop-gap basis for several years.  Instead, the guidance issued by the Obama Administration simply declares – despite specific statutory provisions to the contrary – that states may waive work requirements at the heart of the nation’s successful welfare reform program.
Shortly after HHS released its Informational Memo, Camp and Hatch sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius seeking her explanation of the statutory authority behind the Administration’s guidance.  Camp and Hatch requested a response by Monday July 16. To date, none has been received.
The TANF program is currently authorized through September 2012, requiring reauthorization by then for Federal TANF block grant payments to states – which states in turn use to support benefits for low-income families – to continue.   
Below is a summary of the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act:

The legislation outlines the success of welfare reform, including increasing the employment of single mothers and significantly reducing welfare dependency, while noting that child poverty rates in female-headed households are still below pre-reform levels.  The legislation goes on to say that the authors of the 1996 bill did not intend for the work provisions to be waived, and that the recent HHS Information Memorandum suggesting states may waive work requirements should be withdrawn.
The legislation prohibits:

  • 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.
  • The Secretary of HHS from authorizing, approving, renewing, modifying or extending any experimental, pilot, or demonstration project that waives compliance with TANF work requirements.

Any waiver described in the HHS guidance memo that is granted before the date of enactment is rescinded.

The House version of the legislation has been cosponsored by U.S. Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.), the Chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Chairman of the Republican Study Committee. The Senate version has been cosponsored by the Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as well as Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) – all members of the Finance Committee.

The text of the legislation is available here.