The successful 1996 welfare reform law passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton is a model of bipartisan cooperation and a rare example of divided government achieving a major accomplishment. The law created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program, providing states funds for welfare checks, but also contains strong work requirements to help recipients find and keep jobs rather than become dependent on government aid.
The welfare reform law requires states to ensure at least 50 percent of adults participating in TANF are engaged in various work activities such as education, training, actively looking for work, or paid employment for a minimum number of hours per week. These programs help welfare recipients find work and better prepare them to rejoin the workforce.
The TANF work requirements are supported by more than 80 percent of Americans according to a recent survey and have successfully raised earnings, lowered poverty, and reduced government dependence. Since 1996, child poverty in female-headed households fell dramatically, and welfare dependence caseloads have declined by 57 percent as of last year.
Despite the success of TANF and the work requirement, the Obama Administration recently issued guidance to states which could reverse the core of these bipartisan welfare reforms. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it will grant waivers of work requirements. Waiving the work requirement not only undermines the intent of the program, but also could lead to increased levels of unemployment and dependency on government assistance. Further, the decision to offer waivers for the work requirement was made without the consent of Congress. The announcement by HHS was not made in response to any changes in TANF law, and actually is contrary to statute specifically prohibiting waivers.
To protect the progress we have made on welfare reform and help families in need move from welfare to work, I support H.J.Res 118, which was considered this week by the House Committee on Ways and Means, on which I serve. The resolution expresses disapproval of the Obama Administration's regulatory effort to weaken welfare reform, prevents the Administration from implementing the work requirement waivers, and preserves TANF to help millions of Americans find and maintain jobs.
The resolution was favorably reported by the committee and now awaits consideration by the full House of Representatives. Welfare reform remains one of the greatest bipartisan successes in the last generation. Passing our resolution is necessary to preserve this legacy, and to continue to help families in need move from welfare to work.