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Protecting the Welfare Work Requirement


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In July, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a memo allowing states to waive the work requirement for those seeking public assistance. The work requirement was the key component to the success of the 1996 bipartisan welfare reforms that moved millions of Americans out of poverty, off government dependency, and into jobs.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program. The law promoted work as a central focus of helping low-income families achieve self-sufficiency. Individuals were required to work, prepare for work, or look for work as a condition of receiving public assistance. These work requirements are a big reason the 1996 reforms were successful. In the years that followed, the number of individuals receiving welfare dropped by 57 percent, poverty among all single mothers fell by 30 percent, and employment and earnings among single mothers increased significantly.

The welfare reform law specifically forbids any administration from changing the work requirements. This was confirmed by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, when it released a report on September 4, 2012, determining the administration cannot waive the welfare work requirement without Congressional approval. However, the administration has ignored this and attempted to circumvent Congress's authority.

With nearly 23 million Americans struggling to find a full-time job in this weak economy, we cannot allow the administration to roll back critical features of welfare reform and years of progress. This is why, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I supported H. J. Res. 118 to block the administration from implementing its controversial waiver scheme, which passed the House this week. President Obama should work with Congress, instead of around it, on plans that will create jobs and lessen government dependency.

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