President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today released an official policy directive rewriting the welfare reform law of 1996. According to an analysis by The Heritage Foundation the official policy directive “guts the federal work requirements that were the foundation of the reform law,” “bludgeons the letter and intent of the actual reform legislation,” and ends welfare reform as we know it.
During the Clinton administration, Congress passed bipartisan welfare reform called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and, as Heritage notes, “the underlying concept of welfare reform was that able-bodied adults should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving welfare aid.”
As Heritage points out, “TANF work requirements can be waived or overridden by a legal device called the section 1115 waiver authority under the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. 1315),” but the “work provisions of the TANF program are contained in section 407 (entitled, appropriately, ‘mandatory work requirements’).”
In December of 2001, the Congressional Research Service determined that the “limited authority to waive state reporting requirement in section 402 does not grant authority to override work and other major requirements” in the welfare law:
Technically, there is waiver authority for TANF state plan requirement; however, [the] major TANF requirements are not in state plans. Effectively, there are no TANF waivers …
But this was of no concern to the Obama administration, whose new dictate “asserts that because the work requirements, established in section 407, are mentioned as an item that state governments must report about in section 402, all the work requirements can be waived.”
This is twisted and contrived, and, as Heritage points out, makes the TANF program a basic blank slate that allows HHS and liberal state bureaucrats to define the the work requirement however way they want to. According to Heritage, in the past, state bureaucrats have attempted to define activities such as “hula dancing, attending Weight Watchers, and bed rest as ‘work.'”
These are the type of ridiculous things the welfare reform bill in the 1990s explicitly blocked, which the Obama administration essentially has rewritten.
Bill Clinton’s former HHS Secretary, Peter Edelman, resigned in protest of welfare reforms he felt were too draconian. Those reforms — and the rigorous federal work requirements that outlawed defining “work” as making a trip to Weight Watchers — allowed employment to surge and child poverty to plummet, according to a Heritage study.
If Obama, for some reason, needs a new HHS Secretary, Edelman can now go to the front of the line.