House Republicans are pushing back against President Obama’s program to offer states waivers on welfare work-requirement standards that critics say undermine a key piece of the landmark 1996 welfare-reform law.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, joined three other House GOP members on Thursday in introducing the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013.
“The welfare work requirements are essential to moving people from a government check to an actual paycheck and are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people,” Mr. Camp said.
Republicans criticized the waiver idea during the 2012 presidential campaign, accusing Mr. Obama of trying to “gut” the welfare reform law.
“If you just continue to give free money, there’s an understanding that, ‘I don’t have to do anything to receive this paycheck, so why try?’” said Rep. David G. Reichert, a Washington state Republican who chairs the House Human Resources subcommittee, which held a hearing on the issue Thursday.
Administration defenders said the government was merely offering increased flexibility to the states to shape their welfare programs — a flexibility they said both Democratic and Republican governors had requested.
“I believe in the value of work,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Texas Democrat and ranking member of the Human Resources subcommittee, said during the hearing. “All of us want to see fewer people receive assistance because they found a good job. But there is no indication that these folks that are not receiving assistance found a good job. And no one should consider it a success.”
Work requirements from the 1996 law call for individuals receiving welfare to either have a job, prepare for work or look for work in order to receive public assistance, according to House Republicans.
The law passed after then-President Bill Clinton vetoed two previous versions from the Republican-dominated Congress. His decision to finally sign a revised bill was sharply criticized by many of his liberal allies at the time.
House Republicans say the reform has contributed to higher earnings, lower poverty and reduced government dependence in a program that was often the target of sharp criticism. They point out that 57 percent fewer people receive welfare today.
“There are jobs out there, you just have to be ready and willing to take those jobs,” Mr. Reichert said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said the Obama administration wants substance abuse treatment, bed rest and personal journaling to count as work-related activity.
“In short, the approach envisioned by the Obama administration would mean less real work,” he said while testifying at the House hearing.
“Put simply, allowing activities that are not work to count as work will not get people into work,” he added.
But Mr. Doggett blamed Republicans for “building on old, false stereotypes,” when it comes to welfare.