Members of Congress are taking action to confront last summer’s move by the Obama Administration to gut the 1996 welfare reform law of its work requirements.
The House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources held a hearing Thursday to investigate the Administration’s action to waive the enormously successful and popular workfare provisions. As Chairman Dave Reichert (R–WA) said: “It is critical for us to review the damaging effects of waiving TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] work requirements, which could result in less work and earnings, and more poverty and government dependence.”
In conjunction with the hearing, Representatives Dave Camp (R–MI), John Kline (R–MN), Steve Scalise (R–LA), and Steve Southerland (R–FL) introduced the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013 to stop the Administration’s efforts to undo the work requirements.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT) testified that the Obama Administration claimed that by granting waivers, states would be able to “explore new ways to strengthen work requirements.” Actually, the reality was just the opposite.
As Heritage’s Robert Rector explains that the Administration’s action weakened “the already lenient work participation rates,” broadening “the definition of ‘work activities,’” as well as replacing “the requirement that recipients engage in work activities for 20–30 hours per week with looser standards.”
The Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which created the TANF program, replaced the former public assistance program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Until that time, welfare assistance could be received without any obligation to work, but Congress recognized the need to get people off the welfare rolls and into employment. “Congress carefully defined the work requirements that states must meet in order to comply with the law…. Other activities not falling into these categories were severely circumscribed,” testified Jason Turner, Executive Director of the Secretary’s Innovation Group.
Though the law allowed for education and training under “work activities,” the majority of lawmakers and the general public understood that real work was the key to personal responsibility. As Turner testified, “Without reciprocal work requirements in exchange for benefits, welfare programs tend to spin out of control.”
The work requirement resulted in numerous positive changes for welfare recipients. “Welfare dependency was cut nearly in half,” “employment levels among the former welfare population ballooned,” and “overall poverty and child poverty dropped substantially,” stated Turner.
“Congress must…prevent this Administration from undermining key provisions of welfare reform,” said Hatch.
“We should make clear that Congress meant what it said about welfare work requirements—what works is work and aggressively preparing for work,” said Chairman Reichert at Thursday’s hearing. “The Administration can’t unilaterally waive these critical features of welfare reform.”