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U.S. Politics

Welfare Reform Curveball

Changes to welfare could increase Americans’ dependency on the U.S. government immediately prior to the elections, posits a recent Romney campaign ad. The attack ad by the Romney campaign states that the Obama Administration plans to quietly gut the work requirements out of welfare reform, leaving only the welfare that was there before 1996. A July Heritage Foundation blog entry by Heritage authors is referenced in the Romney  video.

“The new policy guts the federal work requirements that were the foundation of the reform law,” maintain authors Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley in their July 12 blog entry at Heritage’s The Foundry. “The Obama directive bludgeons the letter and intent of the actual reform legislation.”

The directive released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expresses a willingness to grant waivers to states to customize work requirements for welfare under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act.

From the directive:

“HHS is encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.  Therefore, HHS is issuing this information memorandum to notify states of the Secretary’s willingness to exercise her waiver authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

According to an August 8 legal analysis by Heritage’s Andrew Grossman, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has no authority to issue waivers of this sort. “Under the guise of providing states greater ‘flexibility’ in operating their welfare programs, the Obama Administration now claims the authority to weaken or waive the work requirements that are at the heart of welfare reform,” writes Grossman.

Grossman continues,

“But the Obama Administration’s claim that it may weaken or waive work requirements is contrary to law. Section 407 establishes a stand-alone requirement for state welfare plans that brooks no exceptions, befitting its status as the core component of the 1996 reform. It is also absent from the list of requirements that may be waived under Section 1115. Indeed, to eliminate any possible ambiguity as to whether the work requirements could be waived immediately following passage of the 1996 reform, a separate provision specifically states that waivers ‘shall not affect the applicability of section [407]’ (emphasis added).

“The Obama Administration’s argument that the authority to waive a separate section that merely mentions Section 407 places all work requirements at the Administration’s mercy simply beggars belief.”

Ironically, prior to the 1996 welfare reform the Clinton Administration used Section 1115 of the Social Security Act to grant waivers to 43 states to reform state-based Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programs. As Irene Lurie of the State University of New York at Albany wrote in 1998,

“The dismantling of the AFDC program began with waivers from federal law under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act. There was competition and rivalry among states in designing the waivers, but it was not due to the threat of in-migration.”

(In-migration is the theory that citizens might migrate into states with more lax welfare policies, thereby depleting state coffers.)

“A few governors–particularly Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin and John Engler in Michigan–gained the limelight for their tough waiver policies,” Lurie continues. “When they received good press, other governors saw this as a promising strategy. It went even further: if you weren’t doing a waiver, you weren’t really reforming welfare. Between January 1993 and August 1996, when TANF became law, the Clinton administration approved waivers in 43 states.”

The 1996 welfare reform delinked food stamps, cash assistance, and Medicaid. In other words, recipients now have to apply for each program separately. Work requirements and time requirements were added as well in order to create a paradigm shift which emphasized self-sufficiency and the desire for self-improvement (as opposed to cradle-to-grave dependency on the government).

As Star Parker noted in a recent speech at Heritage, “…one of the best things we did [with welfare reform] was help them invest in their own lives, helping them get on that first step out of poverty, which is self-government.”

Time requirements were another important component, she asserts. “But another important component to welfare reform was work, because you’re not gonna get out of poverty if you don’t work!,” exclaimed Parker. “Oh my goodness, I tell many welfare women all across this country–because I do still engage at that level– the key to work is not a minimum wage or promise of government.” Parker’s speech was also arranged by the conservative Clare Boothe Luce Institute.

“The key to work is just get in,” she argues. “Take any job and then work harder than the person above you.”

Update:The Obama administration has released its own video responding to Romney’s ad, which calls the allegations patently false. At Hot Air, Erika Johnsen asks “What’s with throwing Bill Clinton into everything nowadays? Is his popularity really that valuable, or are they just that desperate to remind everyone of the Democrats’ former relative glory?” Perhaps it has something to do with the 43 waivers issued under the Clinton Administration, which I mentioned above. However, the question remains as to whether it is legal for the Administration to issue these waivers, per Grossman’s analysis.

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