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Public Statements

Welfare Unreformed

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

If you had a car with transmission problems, you'd take it into the shop and get it replaced. But would you go back into the shop and ask them to put the old transmission back in after 30,000 miles of smooth driving? Of course not, if the car is working you're going to keep driving it.

President Obama wants to take the transmission out of welfare reform by taking us back to the early "90s. A program that works doesn't need to have essential parts taken out.

In 1996 the historic welfare reform legislation passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support 328 to 101. In the Senate the margins were equally impressive, 78 to 21. President Clinton signed the compromise bill after vetoing two earlier measures. To this day, it is considered one of the great successes of his administration.

It isn't considered a success merely because it was supported by both parties and by public opinion polls. Over time, the numbers have shown that welfare reform has successfully moved many Americans from dependency to work. At the same time, poverty is below early 1990s levels despite the recession.

Employment among single mothers increased 15 percent between 1996 and 2000 as the reforms were instituted. Even with the economy down, employment among this group is still higher than before reform. A job pays better than government assistance and earnings among single mothers are higher now than they were in 1996.

In 15 years, reform reduced welfare rolls by 57 percent. This isn't because the poor have just been kicked off programs. It's because they are doing better under reform. Child poverty in female-headed households is down 15 percent since President Clinton signed the legislation.

What was the basic idea behind welfare reform? That the focus of the program should be getting beneficiaries working again. Providing unlimited benefits regardless of whether a recipient is trying to get an education or a job is a recipe for continuing failure. Unearned entitlements don't fight poverty. They perversely breed poverty.

A few weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services released a new regulation that would allow states to apply for waivers to the welfare program work requirements. First of all, Congress never intended for HHS to have discretion in this area. In fact, the law specifically prohibited waivers to any of the law's work requirements.

What are these requirements? They vary based on the family situation. Typically it is 30 hours per week of either work, training, community service or other approved activities. For single parents with small children these requirements are reduced.

States are required to have half of all families on welfare meeting these basic requirements. If a state isn't meeting the standard, the federal grant is reduced.

Unemployment may be high, but allowing states to waive work requirements isn't going to do anyone favors. Federal assistance is meant to be a safety net. Individuals should be working toward getting off welfare.

Sadly, this attempt to subvert the express provisions in the law seems to be a pattern with the Obama administration. HHS passed out thousands of waivers to the new health care law's requirements, many of them to unions friendly to the administration. The President used his recess appointment power to name officials even though the Senate wasn't actually in recess. The Justice Department refused to the defend the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, leaving the job of protecting the law up to the House of Representatives.

This week, I lent my support to new legislation rejecting the administration's subversion of welfare reform. The Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act would make it even more clear that the President lacks the authority to waive work requirements.

We shouldn't need more legislation to tell the President to follow the law. Especially considering how successful the work requirements in welfare reform have been. A Rasmussen Reports poll this week showed that 83 percent of Americans think the requirements should stand.

Americans of all political stripes agree that government assistance shouldn't come without some expectation that individuals are working, looking for work or receiving an education. Rolling back reform won't help those in poverty find the job they need to climb up the ladder.


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