09.13.2012 2

Obama’s welfare expansion faces congressional scrutiny

By Rebekah Rast — One of the central parts of the 1996 welfare reform law was work requirements through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program.

The law states work activities include job search and job readiness assistance, education related to someone working towards a high school certificate of completion and even community service programs — of course these specified work requirements had the end goal to get people off government assistance.

However, this broad list of “work activities” isn’t enough for the Obama administration.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued guidance to states about TANF and work requirements.  HHS explains how states can now request waivers from the work requirements.

Questions surround this change as it could very well give current and future welfare recipients an easier time getting and staying on the government dole — not the desired effect of a welfare reform law.  Questions also surround the legal powers of HHS to make such a change.

This change by HHS isn’t because the 1996 welfare reform law failed to work — it’s actually proven to be very successful.

On its 10-year anniversary Ron Haskins with the Brookings Institute stated, “Between 1994 and 2004, the caseload declined about 60 percent, a decline that is without precedent. The percentage of U.S. children on welfare is now lower than it has been since at least 1970.”

On its 15-year anniversary, Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, who aided in drafting the work requirements in TANF, stated, “Welfare rolls dropped by half, and the poverty rate for black children reached its lowest level in history in the years following.”

Why change a program that is working? Especially in a way where it leaves the door open for more less-productive recipients staying on welfare by broadening and possibly taking away work requirements.

Morna Murray, special counsel to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), suggested possible expansions of “work activity” in a Huffington Post article and why it would be beneficial. “[S]ome states would like to include job training or post-secondary educational requirements within the “work” requirement to allow people to lift themselves out of poverty,” she wrote.

While getting a college degree might mean a higher income, could this waiver lead to just any college student being eligible for the TANF Program?

“In looking closely at the specific changes that Congress will attempt to overturn in the weeks ahead, one ramification is that Obama’s changes would leave the door open for states to not only not require work, but could even go so far as to make college students eligible for government aid,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).

He goes on to say that this is a “disaster waiting to happen.”

“Our young people are our next great hope in this nation,” Wilson continues.  “To put them into the cocoon of government entitlement when they should be struggling through the growing pains of independence is disastrous for the individual students and our nation as a whole.”

Another question that needs to be asked of this welfare law change is whether or not HHS has gone beyond its statutory powers. To address this concern, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee; U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee; U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee; and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Chairman of the Republican Study Committee introduced joint resolutions to block the Obama administration’s attempt to waive bipartisan welfare work requirements.

Congressional leaders are frustrated that the Obama administration again circumvented their approval.  The resolutions are being introduced in response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which found that the “Administration’s recent decision to unilaterally grant itself the authority to waive federal TANF work requirements qualifies as a rule that must be submitted to Congress and that is subject to review, and potential disapproval, under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).”

U.S. House leaders could bring this legislation to the House floor for a full vote as soon as next week.

Rep. Dave Camp, in response to the joint resolution and GAO report, stated, “Despite his latest attempt at an end-run around Congress, this GAO report clearly states that the Administration must submit this rule to Congress for review before it can take effect.  Work requirements were the centerpiece of welfare reform, and we cannot allow that progress to be undone.”

The Obama administration has stumbled into another battle with House and Senate Republicans and has made this possible breach in power by HHS a big topic in this election year.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has already jumped on this change of welfare reform in an ad that states President Obama has eliminated the work requirement from welfare reform.  Signer of the 1996 welfare reform law President Bill Clinton stated in his speech at the Democratic National Convention that Romney’s claim was false.  So what is the truth?

Heritage’s Robert Rector quells the argument best.  He wrote in the Washington Post: “The Obama administration is waiving the federal requirement that ensures a portion of able-bodied TANF recipients must engage in work activities. It is replacing that requirement with a standard that shows that the pre-reform welfare program was successful and the post-reform program a failure. If that is not gutting welfare reform, it is difficult to imagine what would be.”

Welfare reform has helped this country.  As Americans continue to struggle in a bad economy plagued with high unemployment, why change or “gut” a program that has a proven track record?  Congress must overturn Obama’s attempt to waive the welfare work requirement under the law.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and NetRightDaily.com.  You can follow her on twitter at @RebekahRast.

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