Obama Administration Guts Welfare Reform’s Work Requirements

As The Washington Examiner reports, “In a quiet move Thursday — barely noted beyond the conservative press — the Obama administration ‘released an official policy directive rewriting the welfare reform law of 1996.’”  Its directive “allows the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the work requirement at the heart of welfare reform. That reform, originally vetoed but later signed into law by President Bill Clinton, is widely viewed as the most successful policy initiative in a generation. Under it, the growth in welfare rolls was reversed and millions of people moved from welfare to work. Despite its success, however, many liberals remain opposed to reform. For example, in the years immediately after passage of the law, Barack Obama himself pledged to do all he could to undo it. Now, he has.” The Heritage Foundation calls this action illegal and another sign of an imperial presidency.

As the Heritage Foundation notes,

In the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as hula dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as “work.” These dodges were blocked by the federal work standards. Now that the Obama Administration has abolished those standards, we can expect “work” in the TANF program to mean anything but work. The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama Administration clearly guts the law. The Administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices—a pattern that has become all too common in this Administration.

The Obama administration’s move baffled Mickey Kaus, who voted for Obama in 2008. He called it a “surprising (and possibly illegal) attempt to grant waivers of the work requirements written, after great effort, into the 1996 welfare reform law. . . The guts of the 1996 welfare reform were a) welfare was ended as an “entitlement” . . . and b) one of those requirements was that a certain percentage of each state’s welfare caseload had to be working or preparing for work. A great deal of effort was put into defining what qualified as work, and making sure that work actually meant work and not the various BS activities (including BS training activities) the welfare bureaucracies often preferred to substitute for work.”

As Kaus notes, this is not the first time that the Obama administration has weakened welfare reform:

The 2009 stimulus bill changed the incentives of the 1996 reform by once again rewarding states that expanded their welfare rolls. If you worry about Obama reestablishing the bad old pre-reform welfare system, though, this is worse. . . Rector and Bradley of Heritage (among the first to attack Obama’s action) make the case that the law’s work requirements were specifically designed to not be waivable, and that Obama is using HHS’s authority to waive state reporting requirements as a tricky way of voiding the underlying substantive requirements that are to be reported about.  The Heritage argument–that what HHS did was illegal–seems powerful . . .Perhaps Obama is invoking the long-lost “we can’t wait” clause to enact a change that would never pass a democratically elected Congress–in this case not because Congress is “gridlocked” and and “dysfunctional” and “partisan” but because relaxing work requirements has never been popular with voters, even during less partisan and gridlocked times, even in the swingin’ 60s.”

The Obama administration has presided over skyrocketing spending on government handouts, such as fraud-ridden food stampdisability, and unemployment programs, and its policies have made fraud easier and enabled even some wealthy people to collect food stamps.