Skip to content

Obama’s illegal scheme to end welfare work requirements

September 20, 2012

The Obama administration refuses to give up its backdoor and illegal pursuit to undermine the welfare work requirements. Not only is it claiming authority it doesn’t have and that prior administrations have explicitly stated does not exist, but the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has confirmed that the process by which the administration tried to claim this authority is illegal as well. As chairmen of the congressional committees with jurisdiction over the nation’s key welfare program, we will not stand idle as the administration attempts to circumvent Congress and end welfare reform as we know it.

In 1996, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the historic, bipartisan welfare reforms that created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The core of the law was a requirement that at least half of every state’s welfare recipients work or prepare for work. Those work requirements, along with the other reforms included in the law, resulted in higher employment, greater earnings, reduced welfare dependence and lower poverty among 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.

Fast-forward almost 16 years. On July 12 of this year, the Obama administration issued an “information memorandum” saying it is willing to waive the work requirements that have been so overwhelmingly successful. This is despite the fact that the law prohibits the administration from waiving the work requirements. A Ways and Means Committee summary of the 1996 reforms issued shortly after the law was signed is explicit on this point: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment [of the 1996 law] may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”

The president’s plan to waive the work requirements is not only illegal, it also is being implemented through an unlawful end run around Congress. The GAO determined the Obama administration’s proposal to waive work requirements should have been submitted to Congress for review and possible disapproval. The administration didn’t do that and said it does not need to.

Faced with the administration’s unwillingness to follow basic process, we introduced a resolution last week disapproving of the president’s proposal to waive the welfare work requirements. In a transparent manner, we debated this resolution and then passed it out of each of our committees. This week, the House is expected to consider, debate and pass this resolution, formally telling the administration it has overstepped its bounds.

The president and congressional Democrats claim that wavers will be issued only to move more Americans from welfare to work. But the administration’s track record suggests otherwise. From suspending work requirements for food stamp recipients to paying unemployment benefits to people who quit their jobs, the Obama administration repeatedly has engaged in a systematic effort to undermine work and increase dependence across government benefit programs.

No amount of government dependency can replace the pride of finding work. Welfare reform and its work requirements have been critical to moving men and women into employment. This week, all members of the U.S. House have an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure Americans in need continue to move from welfare checks to paychecks.