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Camp Floor Statement: H.R. 890, the Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013

March 13, 2013

I rise today in support of H.R. 890, the Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013.

In July of last year, the Obama Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued an “information memorandum” saying they would accept and approve applications from States seeking to waive the requirement that 50 percent of their welfare caseload be engaged in or preparing for work.  This “work requirement” was a critical part of the 1996 welfare reforms that created the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF cash welfare program.  Those reforms also led to more work, more earnings, less welfare dependence, and less poverty among families headed by low-income single mothers.

Yet, without any thought of consulting Congress, as is required by law, the Administration saw fit to unilaterally waive the work requirements and risk the progress that has been made in the last 16 years.      

And that’s why we are considering this legislation on the Floor today.  Simply put, this bill would block waivers, so HHS cannot allow States to bypass the work requirements and financial penalties Congress put in place in 1996 for failing to engage welfare recipients in work.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle will argue that Republicans are making a big deal out of nothing, and that we are responding to a problem that doesn’t exist since no States have applied for waivers – yet.  But the American people have made their views clear.  A survey last year revealed 83 percent support a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare.

Clearly, the best way out of poverty is a job, and it is critical that our laws both foster job creation as well as ensure welfare is always a pathway to work.  That is what this legislation is about – ensuring that work and other productive activities remain a central part of the TANF cash welfare program, as the 1996 reforms intended.

Setting aside the success of the work requirement in moving low-income individuals from welfare to work and the overwhelming support the policy enjoys among the American people, current law prohibits the Administration from waiving the welfare work requirement.  Waivers of certain State report requirements are permitted under the TANF program, but the work requirement may not be waived.  A summary of the 1996 reforms prepared by Ways and Means Committee staff immediately following the law’s enactment could not be clearer on this point.  It plainly 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.”  As a Member of Congress who helped to write the welfare reform law and served as a conferee on the bill, the statement in this report accurately captures the intent of Congress.

Historical precedent is not on the Obama Administration’s side either.  No prior Administration, Republican or Democrat, has ever attempted to waive the work requirements in the 16 years between the law’s enactment and the July 2012 information memorandum.  Following the July 2012 action, the Government Accountability Office looked into this and “did not find any evidence that HHS stated it has authority to issue waivers related to TANF work requirements.”  In short, no Administration attempted to waive the work requirements because they knew it was illegal to do so.

Finally, if we need more evidence that, despite their promises to the contrary, the Administration’s policy would weaken the work requirement, we need look no further than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.  This legislation saves $61 million over 10 years, because CBO recognizes the Administration’s waivers will allow some States that may otherwise pay penalties for failing to meet the work requirement to avoid such penalties through a waiver.

In addition to preventing the Administration from waiving the work requirement, the legislation before us extends the TANF program’s authorization at current funding levels through the remainder of this calendar year.  The TANF program provides helpful assistance to individuals most in need of a safety net as they look and prepare for work.  I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in supporting this legislation.