Obama administration ‘guts’ welfare reform with new HHS rule
The Department and Health and Human Services announced the agency will issue waivers for the federal work requirement of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program — considered a central facet of welfare reform in 1996 — Thursday.
The “Information Memorandum” states that the agency will be issuing waivers for TANF’s work participation requirements for parents and caretakers as a way to find new approaches to better employment outcomes.
“While the TANF work participation requirements are contained in section 407, section 402(a)(1)(A)(iii) requires that the state plan ‘[e]nsure that parents and caretakers receiving assistance under the program engage in work activities in accordance with section 407,’” the memo, signed by HHS Director of the Office of Family Assistance, Earl Johnson, explained. “Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.”
The goal, according to the memo, is to improve employment outcomes by “encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” HHS will also require states to provide a method for evaluation and monitor progress.
A notice to state human service officials, also sent Thursday from George Sheldon, Acting Assistant Secretary for Administration for Children and Families at HHS, explained further that waivers will be considered on a case-by-case basis and that the impetus for the decision originated from a February 28, 2011 Presidential Memorandum that directed federal agencies to identify “barriers in Federally funded programs that currently prevent states, localities, and tribes, from efficiently using tax dollars to achieve the best results for their constituents.”
“The Administration for Children and Families took this charge seriously and held a series of consultation meetings with states, tribes, and territories on a variety of topics including TANF. During those consultations, many jurisdictions expressed a strong interest in greater flexibility in TANF and indicated that greater flexibility could be used by states to improve program effectiveness,” Sheldon’s notice explained. “We also heard concerns that some TANF rules stifle innovation and focus attention on paperwork rather than helping parents find jobs.”
The move has some concerned, however, that the Obama administration is weakening or even violating the welfare reform law of 1996.
According to Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, the memorandum is proof of the Obama administration’s continued disrespect for the rule of law.
“President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract,” Jordan said in a statement. “In exchange for taxpayer-funded TANF payments, the law calls on able-bodied adults to work, look for work, take classes, or undergo drug and alcohol counseling. It’s the tough love that gives people motivation to help themselves…Today’s action is also a blatant violation of the law. After immigration, education, marriage, and religious conscience protections, we can now add welfare reform to the list of laws President Obama refuses to follow.”
The American Thinker reported Friday that House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and the Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius Thursday expressing “deep concern” about the memo and demanding a legal reasoning behind the guidance by Monday.
“Simply put, if Congress had intended to allow waivers of TANF work requirements, it would have said so in the statute,” the pair wrote. “Instead, Congress did the exact opposite and explicitly prohibited waivers to section 407 work requirements among other sections of the Social Security Act.”
Robert Rector, The Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow on domestic policy and Katherine (Kiki) Bradley, former associate director of the federal TANF program and Heritage fellow further postulated that the new directive signals an end to the 1996 reforms.
“The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama Administration clearly guts the law,” Rector and Bradley wrote at The Foundry. “The Administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices—a pattern that has become all too common in this Administration. The result is the end of welfare reform.”
After the rule change, House Speaker John Boehner released a statement condemning the move.
“By gutting the work requirements in President Clinton’s signature welfare reform law, President Obama is admitting his economic policies have failed,” Boehner wrote.
“While President Clinton worked with Congress in a bipartisan way on welfare reform and economic opportunity, President Obama has routinely ignored Republican proposals, rejected House-passed jobs bills, and imposed an agenda that’s helped keep the unemployment rate above eight percent for 41 months. Instead of working with Republicans to boost job creation, the president is simply disregarding the requirement that welfare recipients find work,” he continued.
Boehner concluded, “Welfare reform was an historic, bipartisan success – this move by the Obama administration is a partisan disgrace.”