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Camp Opening Statement: Markup of H.R. 890, the “Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013”

March 06, 2013

Good morning.  We are meeting today to consider H.R. 890, legislation that would prohibit the Obama Administration from waiving work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program.

Last July, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued “guidance” that, for the first time, sought to unilaterally allow States to waive work requirements for welfare recipients.  The Obama Administration issued this “guidance” without consulting Congress or using sound legal reasoning.  In fact, the Administration’s “guidance” is, in a word, illegal.

The 1996 welfare reform law, which has achieved significant success in moving individuals from welfare to work, allows for very limited waivers, and expressly prohibits States from waiving the program’s work requirements.  The summary of the new welfare reform law this committee published in November 1996 says simply, “Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”  

Work requirements were central to the success of the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms, and they have served those seeking to enter the workforce very well.  Those reforms led to more work, more earnings, less welfare dependence, and less poverty among low-income Americans.  

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 a remarkable 57 percent.  

Before the Obama Administration’s July 2012 announcement, the fact that these critical work requirements couldn’t be waived was accepted as fact by both Republican and Democratic Administrations.  In fact, in a Human Resources Subcommittee hearing last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified that prior to this Administration, they “did not find any evidence that HHS stated it has authority to issue waivers related to TANF work requirements.”

Despite this historical precedent and both the intent and letter of the law, the Obama Administration has refused to rescind their July 2012 “guidance.”  They have, however, attempted to hide their intentions by subsequent announcements saying they will only accept waiver proposals that result in greater numbers of welfare recipients working.  But nothing in current law prohibits a State from strengthening its work requirements and moving more individuals from welfare to work.  Instead, a waiver would only be needed to weaken the work requirements, as the Administration wishes to do, pure and simple.  

This Administration effort is just baffling, especially when you consider where the American people stand on this matter.  A survey taken after the Administration issued their “guidance” last year revealed that 83 percent of Americans support a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare.  Clearly, these men and women believe, as many of us do, that the best way out of poverty is a job.  It is critical that our laws both foster job creation as well as ensure that welfare is always a pathway to work.

Frankly, it is unfortunate that we find ourselves in this situation.  If not for the Administration’s harmful waiver policy, we might have a stronger, sounder TANF program.

Last year Republicans and Democrats on this Committee were working on a bipartisan TANF reauthorization bill that would have strengthened work requirements and closed funding loopholes.  We held a bipartisan subcommittee hearing in May, crafted bipartisan legislative language, and sought HHS technical assistance on that bipartisan draft language in late June.  Then, without warning, the Administration released their July 12 “guidance,” effectively ending any chances for bipartisan progress the rest of the year as we dealt with their misguided waiver policy.

It’s time to put this waiver debate behind us so we can get back to making progress together to strengthen the TANF program, including its work and State funding requirements.  It was the goal we envisioned last year, it was a goal both sides expressed in the subcommittee hearing held last week, and the legislation before the Committee today would allow us to do just that.  I look forward to its passage by the Committee today and continued progress in the House in the coming days.

I will now recognize Ranking Member Levin for his opening statement.