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Camp Opening Statement: Markup of H.J.Res. 118, “Providing for Congressional Disapproval of the Administration’s July 12, 2012 Waiver of Welfare Work Requirements”

September 13, 2012

Good morning. We are meeting today to consider H.J.Res. 118, a resolution to block the Obama Administration from waiving work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program.

Americans strongly believe that those who are able should work in exchange for receiving federal benefits.  A recent survey revealed that 83 percent support a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare.  The best way out of poverty is a job, and it is critical that our laws both foster job creation as well as ensure that welfare is always a pathway to work.

Work requirements were central to the success of the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms.  Those reforms led to more work, more earnings, less welfare dependence, and less poverty among low-income Americans.  And the reforms were unmistakably successful.  

For example, employment of single mothers increased by 15 percent from 1996 to 2000, and it remains higher today than in 1996, even after two recessions.  At the same time, welfare caseloads have declined by 57 percent.  

However, with their July 12 announcement, the Administration moved to undo the success of the last decade and a half and allow States to waive the welfare work requirements that are at the heart of the TANF program.

To make matters worse, the Administration’s proposal to waive these important work requirements is illegal.  The 1996 legislation, signed into law by President Clinton, does permit an administration to waive certain requirements in the welfare program, which we will hear more about today.  But the work requirement is not among those provisions.  And this was intentional.  

As one of the authors of that bill, I can tell you that we purposefully drafted the law to ensure that work requirements couldn’t be waived because of their importance in moving individuals from welfare to work.  It is also important to recognize that work requirements have been seen as a mandatory part of the TANF program since its creation 16 years ago, and that no prior administrations, HHS secretaries, or governors of either party have ever claimed otherwise.
The summary of the 1996 reforms, Committee print 104-15, prepared by Committee staff immediately following the law’s enactment probably says it best: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment [of the 1996 law] may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”  There is no ambiguity here; no administration may waive the TANF work requirements.    

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle will argue that we are misinterpreting the Administration’s announcement and blowing things out of proportion.  They will say that the only waivers that will be approved are those that lead to greater numbers of welfare recipients finding employment.  But their logic behind the proposed waivers just doesn’t hold.  Why would they need to waive the Federal work requirements if their goal was to move more people into jobs?  Increasing work and resulting caseload declines are counted toward States’ work requirements, so if that is their real intention, current law already satisfies that goal.

The simple fact is increasing work is not the goal of waiving the work requirements.  Instead, expanding how many people receive benefits appears to be the goal.  And this is no accident, or anything new to this Administration.  

Beginning with the February 2009 stimulus bill, the Administration has taken repeated steps to increase the number of Americans collecting government-provided benefits across a range of programs like welfare, unemployment, food stamps, health care and various refundable tax credits.  

A review of government data confirms this reality.  As a report I released on August 21st shows, the Obama Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to undermine the work requirements that were already a vital part of a small number of government programs such as welfare and food stamps. 

These Obama Administration changes have not only been enormously expensive, costing over half a trillion dollars since 2009, but they have also disadvantaged millions of families by removing breadwinners from the workforce and making it far less likely that they will be able to return to productive, well-paid work in the future.

The TANF program provides low-income Americans with temporary and necessary assistance as they transition into the workforce.  The Federal work requirements have been at the core of the success of this program.  By passing this resolution, we will help ensure they remain so.

While the continuing resolution being debated on the House floor today would extend the TANF program for six months, the purpose of this resolution is to ensure that work requirements remain a central focus of this successful program.

I look forward to today’s discussion, and to the progress of this legislation in the coming weeks.