U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) this week threw his support behind an effort to stop the Obama administration from unilaterally acting to waive work requirements built into the successful 1996 welfare reform law.
Cochran is cosponsoring the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2012 (S.3397), which was introduced in response to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiative to allow states to waive work requirements for individuals and families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. The legislation would prohibit HHS from issuing work requirement waivers, which are specifically not allowed by Congress in the 1996 law.
"I support this legislation because it will stop the Obama administration from once again overreaching its authority, in this case by making significant changes to a welfare reform law that most agree has been successful in helping needy families and individuals find employment," Cochran said.
"Mississippi has excelled at implementing work participation programs, having utilized federal block grant funds to help more beneficiaries find and keep jobs. The Department of Health and Human Services is now attempting to open the door to fundamental changes to this program without consulting Congress or even suggesting legislative authority," he said.
Mississippi has the highest TANF Work Program participation rate in the nation, according to the Mississippi Department of Human Services. The state's participation rate for FY2011 was 70.06 percent, which is one factor in the overall national success of the federal welfare reform law to reduce welfare dependency, lower child poverty in female-headed households, and increase employment and earnings of single mothers.
When it created TANF in 1996, Congress intended the program to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency by providing job training and financial assistance for a limited period of time and by requiring participation in approved work activities. The program, which was reauthorized in 2005, was the result of a bipartisan effort to ensure greater accountability and result-oriented uses of federal welfare funds. The law includes specific statutory provisions disallowing waivers for work requirements.
S.3397, as well as companion legislation introduced in the House of Representatives (HR.6140), is a repudiation of an HHS Information Memorandum issued July 12 by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that explains how states can seek waivers for work requirements for welfare recipients.
In addition to prohibiting the implementation of the Information Memorandum, the legislation would not allow the HHS Secretary to "authorize, approve, renew, modify or extend any experimental, pilot or demonstration project" that waives compliance with TANF work requirements. Any waivers granted prior to enactment of the legislation would be rescinded.
The Senate measure, introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.