Republicans accuse HHS of gutting welfare reform with quiet policy change
Published July 13, 2012
Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of
unilaterally gutting welfare reform after the Department of Health and
Human Services quietly notified states that they may seek a waiver for
the program's strict work requirements.
HHS made the announcement in a policy memo Thursday, news that
slipped well below the radar amid a raucous day on the presidential
campaign trail. But a few prominent GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill picked
up on the change, and accused the administration of overhauling one of
the most important bipartisan agreements of the past several decades.
"President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare
contract" Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, D-Ohio, said
in a statement. He also called the move a "blatant violation of the
Mitt Romney on Friday spoke up on the change, saying: "President
Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from
welfare." He said "the linkage of work and welfare is essential to
prevent welfare from becoming a way of life."
How exactly the HHS change will play out is unclear. In Thursday's
policy directive, the department said the states may seek a waiver from
the work component of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Program, in order to "test alternative and innovative strategies,
policies and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes
for needy families."
HHS stressed that any alternative should still aim to get welfare
recipients into gainful employment. Any plan that "appears substantially
likely to reduce access to assistance or employment for needy
families," will not be approved, the memo said.
But HHS is suddenly allowing for more flexibility in a program known
-- and in many circles, lauded -- for its rigid framework. Currently,
states have to have 50 percent of their caseload meet certain work
participation requirements, though there are ways around that as many
states fall short.
The latest department directive
suggested alternative plans could "combine learning and work" to
fulfill the work requirement, or let "vocational educational training or
job search /readiness programs" count as well.
The hard-fought welfare reform agreement in 1996 was struck between
the Bill Clinton administration and a Republican-led Congress. It is
still considered a signature legislative achievement from that period.
The number of people on TANF has decreased dramatically since 1997,
but roughly 4 million people are still enrolled according to federal
figures. The change comes in the middle of a competitive election fight
between Obama and Romney.
Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance
Committee, have written to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for a
more detailed explanation of the change and her authority for making it.
Both expressed concern that the change would strip the crux of the 1996
welfare reform deal.
"This ends welfare reform as we know it," Camp said in a statement.
"I'm disappointed that after years of sitting on their hands and
failing to propose any significant improvements to the TANF programs,
the Obama Administration is once again over-stepping their authority and
attempting to circumvent Congress through an unprecedented bypass of
the legislative process," Hatch said.
Tags: obama, democrats, welfare, breeder, paradise, no work
Location: United States (load item map)
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