Republican leaders Friday pushed back against Obama administration efforts to allow some states to waive work rules in their welfare programs for needy families contained in the landmark 1996 reform law.
By a 250-164 vote, the House passed a resolution Friday rejecting the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) offer to states to devise their own definitions of work and participation rates. Nineteen Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in supporting the resolution.
Also on Friday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, released a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that asks her to explain by Oct. 25 how her agency reached its decision to grant states waivers on congressional work rules. Already, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report that said such a waiver policy needed to be approved by Congress, the Republican lawmakers said.
In a July 12 “information memorandum” to states, HHS officials told states that they were willing to “waive compliance” with federal welfare-to-work rules in the case of “experimental, pilot, or demonstration projects which the secretary determines are likely to assist in promoting the objectives” of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Administration officials have defended the change as giving states — including those with Republican governors — more flexibility in implementing the program, so long as the work requirement standards are not diluted.
An HHS spokesman said Friday that the agency was standing by a July 18 letter from Mrs. Sebelius to Mr. Hatch and Mr. Camp that said HHS “is clearly authorized” to offer waivers. The goal is to allow states more flexibility to design their TANF work programs, and no state will be permitted to start a policy that “undercuts” or “waters down work requirements,” the HHS letter added.
Federal work requirements were a core element of the 1996 welfare reform. The program’s reforms led to a sharp decline in the number of families on welfare and sharp increase in employment of single mothers.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked an effort by Mr. Hatch to bring up a resolution blocking HHS from offering work-rule waivers to states.