Today, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) again called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to explain how the agency determined it had the unilateral authority to waive welfare work requirements first established in the historic 1996 welfare reform law. The Department is more than three months late in responding to their initial request.
"I hate to remind the Obama Administration that Congress is a coequal branch of government with the explicit constitutional authority to draft laws. But it's a worthy reminder, since they've failed to respond to any of our questions about how it is they believe they can unilaterally change the law potentially gutting welfare work requirements that have been on the books since 1996," said Hatch. "We can be both a compassionate nation and one that believes in work as a bedrock of our future prosperity. I sincerely hope the Obama Administration takes a page from the Constitution and explains how it is that they have the power to change such critical policy of work in exchange for government support on their own."
"The law is clear: welfare recipients must meet work requirements in order to get public assistance. The Administration's blatant attempt to eliminate work requirements and refusal to own up to it is simply unacceptable," said Camp. "The American people overwhelmingly support requiring welfare recipients to work for their benefits, which has been the law of the land since 1996. It is long past time for this Administration to provide Congress and the American people an explanation of how they arrived at the opposite conclusion."
On July 12, 2012, HHS issued "guidance" to states about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that could undermine the critical work focus of welfare reform. The HHS guidance attempts to explain how states can now seek "waivers" of work requirements for welfare recipients for the first time since the TANF program was created in the 1996 welfare reform law. This HHS guidance is not in response to any change in TANF law. Nor does it follow up on any proposal from the Obama Administration that seeks to make policy changes to TANF through the regular legislative process. The TANF program was extended under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 through FY 2010. Since then, the TANF program has been extended on a stop-gap basis for several years, and the Obama Administration has never proposed a detailed reauthorization plan. Instead, the guidance issued by the Obama Administration simply declares -- contrary to the express intent of Congress and despite the fact that since 1996, HHS has consistently held that they have no authority to waive welfare work requirements -- that states may waive work requirements at the heart of the nation's successful welfare reform program.
On July 31, 2012, Camp and Hatch requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine whether the Obama Administration's action qualified as a regulation under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). On September 4, 2012, GAO responded saying that the Obama Administration's decision to unilaterally grant itself the authority to waive federal TANF work requirements that were a critical element of the welfare reform enacted in 1996 qualifies as a rule. As a result, it must be submitted to Congress and is subject to review -- and potential disapproval -- under the Congressional Review Act.
On September 21, 2012, Camp and Hatch sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius asking her to provide a legal analysis detailing how the agency determined it had the unilateral authority to waive welfare work requirements. To date, the agency has yet to respond to this request.