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Luetkemeyer Column- Preserving Welfare Reform


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One of the keys to getting our economy headed back in the right direction is to reduce people's dependence on entitlements and provide them the opportunity to get back to work and improve their quality of life.

Back in 1996, Congress came together and passed bipartisan legislation to reform our nation's welfare system. This legislation instituted the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in an effort to ensure that our welfare system provided a way back to work and not a way to keep from working. These reforms have empowered struggling Americans to work, raised their earnings, lowered poverty, and reduced government dependence, while still maintaining a safety net for needy families facing hard times.

The bipartisan law requires individuals to work, prepare for work, or look for work as a condition of receiving public assistance. In the years following passage of the 1996 bipartisan welfare reforms, the number of individuals receiving welfare dropped by 57 percent; poverty among single mothers fell by 30 percent; poverty among African American children dropped; and employment and earnings among single mothers increased significantly.

Despite these factors, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a controversial memorandum in July explaining that the Obama Administration will grant "waivers" of TANF work requirements for welfare recipients for the first time since the program was created. This unprecedented policy announcement by the Obama Administration simply declares -- despite specific statutory provisions to the contrary -- that states may waive work requirements at the heart of the nation's successful welfare reform program.

Not only is the administration claiming to have power not granted in the law, it is attempting to do so through an end run around Congress. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined that the administration's waiver policy is a rule and therefore subject to Congressional disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.

Since this memorandum became public, supporters of welfare reform's work provisions in the House have been considering ways to counteract it. At this time our best chance is through the Congressional Review Act, and I am pleased to announce that we initiated that process this week with the passing of House Joint Resolution 118, which expresses Congress's disapproval of the Obama Administration's welfare work requirement waivers.

While we will need additional support to prevent the Obama Administration from implementing its plan to undermine one of the cornerstones of the successful 1996 welfare reform law, this resolution sends a very strong message to the Department of Health and Human Services that members of the House are dedicated to preserving the critical reforms that have helped lift millions of American families out of poverty.

To be clear, supporters of welfare reform did not ask for this fight but we will not stand by while the president ignores that law and promotes policies that will hurt families and taxpayers. This is not the first time we've experienced the negative impacts of the administration's approach to entitlements. For example, the president's so-called stimulus law that I opposed in 2009 resulted in the number of adults on food stamps doubling from 1.9 million in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

President Obama should work with Congress on solutions that will create jobs and expand opportunity, not circumvent Congress to advance controversial policies that lead to more dependence and less hope for the American people. We should be empowering people, not the government, during these tough economic times. The president's decision to offer these waivers is going to make things worse for our people and our economy.

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