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Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CAMP. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 890, Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and TANF Extension Act of 2013.

In July of last year, the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services issued an information memorandum saying they would accept and approve applications from States seeking to waive the requirement that 50 percent of their welfare caseload be engaged in or preparing for work.

This work requirement was a critical part of the 1996 welfare reforms that created the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, cash welfare program. Those reforms also led to more work, more earnings, less welfare dependence, and less poverty among families headed by low-income single mothers.

Yet, without any thought of consulting Congress, as is required by law, the administration saw fit to unilaterally waive the work requirements and risk the progress that has been made in the last 16 years. And that's why we are considering this legislation here on the floor today.

Simply put, this bill would block waivers, so HHS can't allow States to bypass the work requirements and financial penalties Congress put in place in 1996 for failing to engage welfare recipients in work.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle will argue that Republicans are making a big deal out of nothing and that we're responding to a problem that doesn't exist since no States have applied for waivers--yet. But the American people have made their views clear. A survey last year revealed 83 percent support a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare.

Clearly, the best way out of poverty is a job, and it's critical that our laws both foster job creation as well as ensure welfare is always a pathway to work. That's what this legislation is about: ensuring that work and other productive activities remain a central part of the TANF cash welfare program, as the 1996 reforms intended.

Setting aside the success of the work requirement in moving low-income individuals from welfare to work and the overwhelming support the policy enjoys among the American people, current law prohibits the administration from waiving the welfare work requirement. Waivers of certain State report requirements are permitted under the TANF program, but the work requirement may not be waived.

A summary of the 1996 reforms prepared by Ways and Means Committee staff immediately following the law's enactment could not be clearer on this point. It plainly states:

Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.

As a Member of Congress who helped write the welfare reform law and served as a conferee on the bill, the statement in this report actually captures the correct intent of Congress.

Historical precedent is not on the Obama administration's side, either. No prior administration, Republican or Democrat, has ever attempted to waive the work requirements in the 16 years between the law's enactment and the July 2012 information memorandum.

Following the July 2012 action, the Government Accountability Office looked into this and ``did not find any evidence that HHS stated it has authority to issue waivers related to TANF work requirements.'' In short, no administration attempted to waive the work requirements because they knew it was illegal to do so.

Finally, if we need more evidence that, despite their promises to the contrary, the administration's policy would weaken the work requirement, we need look no further than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. This legislation saves $61 million over 10 years because CBO recognizes the administration's waivers will allow some States that may otherwise pay penalties for failing to meet the work requirement to avoid such penalties through a waiver.

In addition to preventing the administration from waiving the work requirement, the legislation before us extends the TANF program's authorization at current funding levels through the remainder of this calendar year.

The TANF program provides helpful assistance to individuals most in need of a safety net as they look and prepare for work. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in supporting this legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. CAMP. Mr. Speaker, I would just say that waiving the work requirement isn't going to get more people into work.


Mr. CAMP. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I would just say--as other speakers have mentioned--the 1996 welfare reform law has been tremendously successful. It has lowered welfare roles, it has lifted people out of poverty, it has reduced poverty for single mothers, and reduced poverty for children. And before that, before we had the 1996 welfare reform law, whether times were good or bad, welfare rolls only increased.

Clearly, the welfare reform law has been successful. Frankly, we need to protect the law from this administration, because what this administration wants to do is undermine the work requirement in welfare.

And what are we talking about here? The work requirement is really that only half of the welfare caseload has to be in work. That means for the other half, States have ultimate flexibility to determine how to move those people into job readiness and to work. For the half of the people that need to be in some form of work requirement there are 12 definitions of what is work in the law. Let me just list those off:

Subsidized private employment, subsidized government employment, job search, community service. You can be in community service and that qualifies for work.

Work experience, on-the-job training. If you're getting training related to your job, that counts as work.

Vocational education. So you can be training in a vocational discipline and still have that qualify for work.

Caring for the child of a TANF recipient in community service. So you can care for somebody else's child and that counts as work. And we're only talking about half of the welfare caseload.

Job skills training, education related to employment, completion of secondary school. That all counts as work.

Let's look at the Statement of Administration Policy. They say that no States have formally applied for waivers. No States are asking for this because they already have tremendous flexibility.

But let me just say, if you're going to change the law--and what this administration is trying to do is change the law--you don't just send a letter, or what they're calling an information memorandum. What is that?

Frankly, when the Government Accountability Office looked at this, they said they can't do business this way. This is a rule. And to follow a rule they need to follow the Congressional Review Act, they need to follow the law. And the law says they need to notify Congress, which they did not do. This is something they did on their own.

So on many levels we need to turn this around. They've entered into a gray murky area that we really don't know what they're doing, whether it's legal or not, whether States will have authority to do this or not. Given that the law was explicit that there is no waiver of this work requirement, given that this work requirement was a condition for States getting a cash payment, a block sum amount in welfare, and given the flexibility that was written into the law, it's very important that we make this clear.

Frankly, I think my friends on the other side should be joining Republicans in protecting the constitutional authority of the Congress to make the laws, not the bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services. So I would ask my friends, vote for this bill, support the work requirement, support the ability of the Congress to make the laws under the Constitution of the United States.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. CAMP. I have to say, Mr. Speaker, this is one of the most unnecessary and meaningless motions to recommit I've seen in my time in Congress. The definition of who's eligible for TANF is left to the States. So the idea that somehow this motion to recommit singles out unemployed parents, TANF applies to unemployed parents. TANF applies to people that are veterans. TANF applies to people who are grandparents. It's about getting the unemployed jobs.

So I have to say, I'm puzzled by this. It seems totally political and completely unnecessary. None of these groups mentioned in this motion to recommit are excluded from receiving TANF benefits.

What this is about is not weakening the work requirement. I understand why the administration may want to weaken the work requirement since their record on job creation is so atrocious. But the fact is that States have tremendous flexibility here. Half of the caseload doesn't have to meet the work requirement. They can be engaging in whatever activity or no activity the State determines. The other half has 12 different categories, including vocational training and other job readiness activities, that will qualify as work.

This is a straight extension of current law. This is an extension of current law that has proven extremely successful. Let's not weaken the requirement. Let's extend the welfare program, the TANF program, at current levels, and let's get people back to work.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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