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Camp Opening Statement, Rules Committee: H.J.Res. 118, a Resolution to Disapprove of the HHS Rule Waiving Work Requirements in TANF

September 19, 2012

On July 12 of this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an “information memorandum” saying they would accept and approve applications from States seeking to waive the work requirement that has been central to the success of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF cash welfare program.  

The Administration issued its memorandum despite the fact that the section of the Social Security Act containing the welfare work requirements, section 407, is not among those that any administration, Republican or Democrat, has the authority to waive.
The work requirement, which stipulates that 50 percent of a State’s welfare caseload must work or prepare for work, was a key part of the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms signed into law by President Clinton.  

A summary of those reforms, Ways and Means Committee print 104-15, prepared by Committee staff immediately following the law’s enactment is quite clear that work requirements may not be waived.  It states, “Waivers granted after the date of enactment [of the 1996 law] may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”  

Again, despite the Administration’s claims, I can assure you as one of the authors of that legislation, and member of the conference committee, it was our intention that the work requirements not be waived.  

The history of welfare reform policy since 1996 has been consistent with this understanding.  Today, GAO released a report that found that HHS has never before issued any TANF waivers in the history of the program, including involving the TANF work requirements.  

More importantly, they found that when previous HHS Secretaries were asked about the possibility of waiving work requirements, HHS responded that “the Department does not have authority to waive any of the provisions.”  That was the conclusion of the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration and, at least previously, the Obama Administration.  When it comes to welfare work requirements, I guess we can say President Obama was against them, before he was for them, before he was against them.

Additionally, the July12 memorandum from HHS was not submitted to Congress for review, as is required by law.  I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review this matter as well, and on September 4 they confirmed that the HHS memorandum qualifies as a rule and is therefore subject to review and potential disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.  The Congressional Research Service agreed with that finding.  So, not only has the Administration attempted to exercise authority they do not have, they have done so in a manner that does not comply with the law.

As a result, Chairman John Kline (who chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee with whom we share jurisdiction over welfare work requirements), Congressman Jim Jordan, and I introduced H.J.Res. 118.  
This resolution disapproves of the Administration’s attempt to undermine the welfare work requirements and would prevent the implementation of the HHS guidance to dismantle the work provisions that are a critical part of the law.  Both Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce approved H.J.Res. 118 last Thursday.

The work requirement and other bipartisan 1996 reforms to the welfare program have led to more work, higher earnings, less welfare dependence, and fewer impoverished low-income Americans.  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.

The American people 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.  That is what this legislation is about – ensuring that work remains a part of the TANF cash welfare program, as the 1996 reforms intended.  I urge this Committee’s support for that goal and this important resolution to achieve it.

Thank you again Mr. Chairman, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions the Committee might have.