Obama proposed waiving work requirement for welfare. Good move?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has quietly opened the
door for states to seek major changes in how they meet federal
welfare-to-work requirements for some of their poorest residents, and
leading conservatives are crying foul.
memo to states issued with little notice late Thursday, the federal
Health and Human Services Department said it is interested in approving
state experiments that will help "find more effective mechanisms for
helping families succeed in employment."
will not be able to escape the work requirements of the landmark 1996
federal welfare reform law, the administration said, but they may get
federal approval to try to accomplish the same goals by using different
methods than those spelled out in the legislation.
by Democratic President Bill Clinton as he steered his administration
toward the political center, the welfare reform law replaced a federal
entitlement with grants to the states, while putting a time limit on how
long families can get aid and requiring recipients to eventually go to
work. The program is now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,
or TANF for short.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Orrin
Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the committee that oversees
welfare. Camp called the waiver plan "a brazen and unwarranted
unraveling of welfare reform," while Hatch called it a "power grab."
a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the two lawmakers demanded
an explanation, saying the work requirements have remained untouched
for 16 years and may not be waived. "No other administration ... has
ever arrived at the conclusion that TANF work requirements can be
waived," said the two lawmakers.
Welfare reform replaced the old Aid to Families with Dependent
Children with a new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF). The underlying concept of welfare reform was that able-bodied
adults should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of
receiving welfare aid.
The welfare reform law was very successful.
In the four decades prior to welfare reform, the welfare caseload never
experienced a significant decline. But, in the four years after welfare
reform, the caseload dropped by nearly half. Employment surged and
child poverty among blacks and single mothers plummeted to historic
lows. What was the catalyst for these improvements? Rigorous new federal
work requirements contained in TANF.
Contrary to some perceptions, the formula that made welfare reform a
success was not giving state governments more flexibility in operating
federally funded welfare programs. The active ingredient that made the
difference was requiring state governments to implement those rigorous
new federal work standards.
Today the Obama administration issued a
dramatic new directive stating that the traditional TANF work
requirements will be waived or overridden by a legal device called a
section 1115 waiver authority under the Social Security law (42 U.S.C.
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