Welfare to work is the cornerstone of a reform passed in 1996 by a Republican Congress and signed by Bill Clinton. The Obama administration on Thursday announced it was taking steps to gut this landmark law.
The theory behind welfare reform was people on government assistance not only should work towards getting a job but actually want one. The law is credited with shrinking the welfare caseload by over 2.8 million, making them productive members of society. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will now undo the reform by offering states waivers on work requirements imposed on some individuals receiving welfare money. The change will create voters dependent on the state who will be more likely to pull the lever for the party committed to expanding government.
The work requirements HHS considers so onerous cover a wide range of activities currently supported by local benefits offices. “Job training, job skills, vocational education, learning english as a second language, pursuing a GED, and apprenticeship programs all provide preparation for people to get job skills under their belts,” said Heritage Foundation’s Katherine Bradley, former deputy director of the office of family assistance (which administers the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF). “That’s all going to stop because of this waiver. It’s going to give people who were getting help to become more employable no help. By removing the expectation that people leave the rolls and get jobs, it robs them of their dignity and chance to break the generational cycle of government dependency.”
It’s not clear that HHS even has the legal authority to waive the work requirement. “Simply put, if Congress had intended to allow waivers of TANF work requirements, it would have said so in the statute,” wrote Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, in a letter sent Thursday to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. They have asked Mrs. Sebelius to provide an explanation of the legal reasoning they called “deeply flawed and specifically contradicted by TANF and related statutory language.”
Mr. Camp has oversight authority over the program as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and was one of the original authors of the 1996 law. “President Obama is attacking the heart of the bipartisan welfare reforms that have increased employment and earnings among low-income Americans over the last decade and a half,” he told The Washington Times. “Eliminating the work requirements and turning back the clock to make welfare once again a system that simply writes checks is insulting to taxpayers already struggling to make ends meet in the Obama economy.”
GOP candidate Mitt Romney suggested he would do things differently if he were elected. “Work is a dignified endeavor,” he said Friday. “The linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”
This is the merely the latest scheme by President Obama to trade taxpayer dollars for votes. With government awash in red ink, it makes no sense to invite states to expand their welfare rolls. Benefits recipients trying to make ends meet while looking for jobs will hopefully see through this patronizing attempt to buy them off.
Anneke E. Green is assistant editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Follow her on twitter @annekeegreen.