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Chairmen Smith, LaHood Demand Biden Administration Withdraw Rule That Sidesteps Congress and Weakens Recent Bipartisan Welfare Reforms

November 28, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden Administration is overstepping statutory authority and attempting to legislate by way of regulation in a proposed rule that would make substantive changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, write Ways and Means Committee Chairmen Jason Smith (MO-08) and Work and Welfare Subcommittee Chairman Darin LaHood (IL-16) in a letter today to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra. 

“The proposed rule goes well beyond previous regulatory actions and statutory authority granted to the Department, mirrors legislative proposals currently under consideration by our Committee, and lessens the impact of TANF reforms included in the recently passed bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act (P.L. 118-5). Instead, we call on the Administration to work with the Committee to develop a bipartisan proposal with legislative changes to strengthen accountability in TANF.”

The letter presents specific instances over the past year where the Ways and Means Committee has demonstrated a concerted effort to improve the ability of the TANF program to meet its goals and provide for families in need. However, such improvements should be done via the legislative process rather than through agency rulemaking:

“As the authorizing Committee with legislative jurisdiction over TANF, we share many of the Administration’s concerns that TANF is not focused on achieving [its] statutory purposes…However, changes in the proposed rule are in clear violation of Congressional restrictions placed on the Department’s ability to regulate. When TANF was created with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, the overarching goal and stated purpose in statute was ‘to increase the flexibility of States.’ Likewise, the Committee report emphasized the importance of state flexibility seven times and stated that TANF’s purpose is ‘to increase state flexibility in providing assistance to needy families…’ To protect this purpose, Congress explicitly limited the ability of the Executive branch from issuing regulations for the TANF program.”

Demonstrating the danger in going outside Congressional authority, Smith and LaHood highlight how HHS is proposing a policy in their rule that would weaken bipartisan reforms to work requirements under TANF enacted into law in the Fiscal Responsibility Act just a few months ago:

“Specifically, this rule would create a new ‘significant progress’ criterion that would reduce penalties for states that fail to meet the work participation requirement. This directly contradicts and undermines the substantive reforms Congress enacted in May, on a bipartisan basis, to restore the integrity of state work participation rate requirements by closing loopholes.”

Instead of the Biden Administration continuing to illegally legislate through executive action, Smith and LaHood invited the Biden Administration to acknowledge their shared goals and work together to implement lasting bi-partisan legislative reforms to strengthen TANF. 

Read the full letter here.

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