House Republicans seek to block welfare work waivers

House Republicans introduced legislation Thursday to reinstate the original work requirement for welfare benefits critics say was loosened by an executive order coming from the President Barack Obama.

The bill, titled “Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013,” will prohibit the Obama administration from granting waivers to the work requirements contained in the welfare reform legislation enacted in 1996 under the Clinton administration.

“The welfare work requirements are essential to moving people from a government check to an actual paycheck and are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp in a statement.

The Obama administration claims that it was giving states the flexibility some governors say is needed in meeting the work requirements during a soft economy. To qualify, the Department of Health and Human Services stated, governors “must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s past performance.”

Opponents of the waivers counter that they do not use the metrics contained in the law and will undermine them in practice.

“The administration has provided no historical evidence showing that Congress intended to grant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or any part of the executive branch the authority to waive the TANF work requirements,” the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector argued in The Washington Post.

“Welfare reform helped end dependency, reduce poverty, and strengthen the income security of millions of families,” Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline said. “President Obama’s waiver scheme will undo this bipartisan success by striking at the heart of the law’s work requirement, hurting families and taxpayers in the process.”

In a letter to the Ways and Means Committee, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that reinstating the work requirement would save the taxpayers money.

“We estimated that enacting House Joint Resolution 118 would reduce direct spending by $59 million over the 2013-2022 period,” the letter states. “Additionally, we estimated the resolution would have no effect on revenues, no significant effect on spending subject to appropriation, and no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates (as defined by the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act).”

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch testified in front of the House Ways and Means Committee Thursday on the issue.

“Over the years, research has consistently demonstrated that a work-first approach, continuing an intense effort to engage the client in work related activities to foster an attachment to work, with a blended menu of work supports education and training has the greatest degree of success in getting clients off of welfare,” he said.

Welfare recipients dropped over the decade following reform from 12.2 million to 4.5 million and 60 percent of mothers who left welfare were able to find work, surpassing many experts’ predictions.

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