By Representative Paulsen
Seventeen years ago, Congress passed bipartisan legislation aimed at setting our nation's welfare system on track. This was done not only to help sustain those who fall on hard times, but also with a wise focus on the future, to ensure welfare recipients were making efforts to find rewarding and gainful employment. The work requirement in the 1996 welfare reform law was central to the plan's success and has led to more work and less poverty among low-income Americans. In the wake of the reforms, the nation saw a record decline in welfare dependence; poverty in single mother families fell by 30 percent; earnings and work for single women grew; and welfare caseloads fell by a remarkable 57 percent. The program worked, and steadily, out-of-work Americans got back to work as well.
On July 12th, 2012, the Obama Administration, through the Department of Health and Human Services, released guidance saying that they now have authority to exempt states from requiring welfare recipients to work in order to receive benefits. In the 17 years since the 1996 welfare reform law was signed, no previous Administration has ever claimed they had the power to waive the work requirement. The Administration never proposed legislative changes to provide this authority. Instead, they unilaterally claimed the authority to waive work requirements without justification.
Under the current law, Congress specifically lists what can count towards the work requirement including: an actual job, on-the-job training, and job search. Yet, if the Administration has the authority to waive the work requirement, states could start counting as "work" many of the activities performed by welfare recipients that were rejected by Congress. Some of these activities -- as reported by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office -- include: bed rest, exercise, massage, journaling, motivational reading, weight loss promotion, and helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands.
This Administration's effort is difficult to comprehend, especially when one considers where the American people stand on the matter. A survey taken after the Administration issued their "guidance" last year revealed that 83 percent of Americans support a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare. Minnesotans understand that the best way out of poverty is a job.
Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee passed legislation to prohibit the Obama Administration from waiving work requirements for welfare recipients. Simply put, requiring welfare recipients to work, works. It is important that we restore the work requirement not only to foster job creation, but more importantly, to ensure that welfare recipients are always working towards finding rewarding employment.