Welfare waivers for amnestied immigrants?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Harmonic convergence of kausfiles themes!  Two seemingly unrelated developments:

1) Senator Marco Rubio has been assuring conservatives that the illegal immigrants legalized by his immigration amnesty would (in FOX News’ paraphrase)  “not qualify” for federal welfare benefits

“for at least 10-13 years–and would not qualify for another five years under current law.”

2) A memo has surfaced showing that HHS official Mark Greenberg was angling to water down the welfare reform law’s work requirements as early as 2009, the first year of the Obama administration.

Put (1) and (2) together … Hmm … Would HHS have the power to waive the restrictions on welfare that Rubio is running around boasting about? The answer is apparently yes, at least in part, according to  Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office. The 2009 internal memo to Greenberg claims that HHS has the power to let states spend federal money “for a benefit or service beyond those allowable under [relevant statutory provision]”–which would apparently apply to  the existing 5 year ban on basic welfare (“Temporary Assistance for Needy Families’) for green card holders. It might also apply to any additional restrictions on welfare for immigrants that Rubio & Co. insert into the law.

2013–Banned! 2015–Waived!

Hatch has introduced an amendment (see “Hatch21”) that tries to preclude this possibility. It appears to be broadly drawn–not just applying to immigrants but generally restricting  HHS’s waiver authority in a way likely to cause Greenberg and HHS Secretary Sebelius some heartburn.

Prediction:  The amendment is not a poison pill–it’s not going to stop the immigration bill if there’s otherwise sufficient support (a big if). But it’s not likely to be something Senators will want to be seen as voting against. Either the administration will eat the change if necessary (maybe hoping to get it removed later–e.g. in conference) or it will be narrowed. But it’s another example of how many ways there are around Rubio’s no-welfare-for-the-amnestied promises, even if they seem to be written into law. …

Hatch 21’s Catch 22: The danger, of course, is that Hatch will succeed in improving the fundamentally flawed Schumer-Rubio bill enough to give Republicans an excuse to vote for it. …

Mickey Kaus