Politics
Obama points to his brain. AP Images. Obama points to his brain. AP Images.  

GOP lawmakers: Obama admin planned years in advance to weaken welfare reform

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

The Obama administration was planning to weaken the welfare work requirements as far back as 2009, GOP lawmakers charge.

An internal Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) memo from 2009 released Tuesday by Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp explores the legal justifications to allow the HHS secretary to waive work and other requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that were part of the 1996 welfare reform law.

Last summer the Obama administration issued an Information Memorandum allowing states apply to waive the TANF work requirement. At the time, the administration said this was due to requests from some states for more flexibility and was meant as a way to test strategies “to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

Republicans, including then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney, charged that the action “gut” the 1996 welfare reform.

According to Hatch and Camp, the memo shows that the Obama administration was looking to find ways to get around the work requirement years in advance of receiving requests from states.

“I’ve been more than a little skeptical of the Obama administration’s argument that they were purely responding to the needs of the states when they unilaterally chose to undermine welfare work requirements, and this memo confirms my skepticism, “ Hatch said in a statement. “From the first year the Obama administration took power, it was trying to find any legal and policy justification to permit the weakening of welfare reforms that demand work in exchange for government benefits.”

“They used states’ desire for flexibility as a stalking horse to justify this massive executive branch power grab,” he added. “This sets a very dangerous precedent and it’s time the administration admit that this was their goal all along.”

Hatch and Camp have both introduced legislation aimed at prohibiting the Obama administration from giving itself the authority to waive the work requirements. Camp’s legislation has passed the House twice.

“The welfare work requirement was part of the overwhelmingly successful 1996 welfare reforms that led to more work and earnings and less poverty and dependence. The administration’s efforts to dismantle this work requirement – and their false premises for doing so – are simply unacceptable,” Camp said.

As of Feb. 27, no states had requested a waiver, according to the Congressional Research Service. States remain able to apply for waivers.

The memo also looks at the ability of the secretary to waive the five-year time limit on TANF benefits and the ability to allow ineligible immigrants, fugitive felons and parole violators to obtain benefits, according to the GOP lawmakers.

Follow Caroline on Twitter