The PJ Tatler

GOP Counters Obama's Waiver for Welfare Work Requirements

Republicans have introduced legislation to counter President Obama’s waiver of work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Yesterday, House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Education & Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.), Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act, which would prohibit the administration from unilaterally granting itself the authority to exempt states from the work requirements that were a critical element of welfare reform enacted in 1996.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent an “information memorandum” to states last Thursday exercising waiver authority under the Social Security Act for the provision that “parents and caretakers receiving assistance under the [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)] program engage in work activities.”

“HHS is encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment,” the memo said, adding that the goal of the waiver is “to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

The lawmakers behind the new bill say that this waiver could potentially open the door for activities like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to be counted as work for the purposes of complying with TANF.

“Gutting welfare work requirements with the stroke of a pen and without congressional input is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to stand,” said Hatch.  “Neither the Obama Administration nor any Administration should have the power to unilaterally change the law as it sees fit.”

Shortly after HHS released its memo, Camp and Hatch sent a letter to Sebelius seeking her explanation of the statutory authority behind the administration’s guidance. Camp and Hatch requested a response by this past Monday. To date, none has been received.

“If the administration is so sure that they have the authority to waive TANF work requirements, why are they dragging their feet in responding to Congress with the legal reasoning behind this action?” Hatch said.

Camp said he expects the legislation to be considered by the House “in the coming days.”

“The Obama administration has once again overstepped its bounds, this time to the detriment of those struggling most under their failed economic policies,” Camp said. “The administration’s unprecedented efforts to undo welfare reforms that resulted in higher earnings and employment for low-income Americans cannot be allowed to stand.”