Work Requirement for Welfare Recipients

Nov 1, 2012

“First and foremost, [welfare reform] should be about moving people from welfare to work.” – President Bill Clinton, August 22, 1996

Sixteen years ago, a Republican-led Congress worked with a Democratic President to fix a broken welfare system. President Bill Clinton rallied the nation to “end welfare as we know it” and his call to action was well founded. Under the old system, 65 percent of families were dependent on welfare for an average of eight years or more, and individuals obtained welfare benefits for an average of 13 years throughout the course of a lifetime. Due to a lack of focus on work, failed welfare policies left families trapped in a cycle of dependency and poverty.

In response, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PL 104-193). The law replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program. The bipartisan 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.

House Republicans know that Americans would rather earn a paycheck than receive a government check. Darnell Carter, a single father from Detroit testified that, “As a single parent with sole custody of two children, my 12-year-old daughter Egypt and 8-year-old daughter Christian, working is a winner hands down even though I still deal with some of the challenges that faced me while I was on assistance such as child support and daycare.”  In the years following passage of the 1996 bipartisan welfare reforms, the number of individuals receiving welfare dropped by 57 percent. (emphasis added).

House Republicans believe that Welfare to Work empowers mothers and helps to strengthen families.  In the years following the passage of Welfare to Work, poverty among all single mothers fell by 30 percent and employment and earnings among single mothers increased significantly.  Lisa Hudson, a single mother of four once told Congress how Welfare to Work helped find her a job where she earned pay increases and assistance to help her “provide a better home and stability for my family.”  She said that through her accomplishments, “I have become a good role model for my children which will help them in their future as they become adults.”

House Republicans believe that no American, regardless of race, income, or family status should be trapped in a cycle of poverty.  In the years following Welfare to Work’s enactment, poverty among black children dropped to its lowest level in 2001.  LaShunda Hall, a former Wisconsin Works Participant testified that,  “I stand as a positive example of those who have realized success by participating in this life-changing TANF funded program…Thanks to the W2 program, I can come before you this morning and honestly say that I am happy with my life. Today, I am earning an honest living, providing daily for my children and me… I now stand as an example to my children of what dedication and determination can do. I am a living example for them that OIC-GM’s W2 program did exact what it was designed to do, it broke the cycle of poverty and offered temporary assistance to a needy family. For me, the program saved my life by building a bridge of support from a present failure to a bright future.” (emphasis added)

These real life stories and the facts highlight the success of welfare reforms that should be strengthened to give more opportunity for all Americans to succeed.   We encourage Members and staff to read the full testimonies of Darnell, Lisa, and LaShunda here, here, and here.  
Despite moving millions of Americans off government dependency and into a job, welfare reform is now under attack from the Obama administration. A memorandum released on July 12, 2012 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allows states to seek a waiver from the work requirements central to the success of welfare reform. Under the guise of state flexibility, the president is unilaterally weakening efforts to assist needy families. Flaws with the Obama administration’s waiver proposal include:

Waiving critical work requirements without any legal basis. Current law provides limited and explicit waiver authority to the HHS Secretary. Nowhere does the law state the secretary can waive Section 407 of the Social Security Act, which outlines federal work requirements. In fact, no administration has claimed it can waive the law’s work requirements since reform was enacted more than 15 years ago – at least not until now. Not only is the administration claiming to have power not granted in the law, it is attempting to do so through an end run around Congress. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined that the administration’s waiver policy is a rule and therefore subject to Congressional disapproval under the Congressional Review Act. 

Taking us back to the days when some states gamed the system. A 2005 Government Accountability Office study found some states were claiming personal journaling, bed rest, and weight loss as work activities. In 2006, Congress required the HHS Secretary to strengthen the department's oversight of how states determine appropriate work activities, verify the number of hours worked and determine who is able to work. The president’s waiver scheme could open the door to new abuses of taxpayer dollars under the auspices of helping impoverished families.

Unwinding years of progress in moving families from welfare to work. Nearly 23 million Americans are struggling to find a full time job in the Obama economy. Even in the midst of the recession in 2008 and 2009, the percentage of children in female-headed households living in poverty was lower than before welfare reform was signed into law. Instead of providing support that will help unemployed Americans move into employment, the president’s executive overreach will lead to more dependency for those struggling the most under his failed policies. President Obama should work with Congress on solutions that will create jobs and expand opportunity, not circumvent Congress to advance controversial policies that lead to more dependence and less hope for the American people.

Congress cannot allow the Obama administration to circumvent the law and roll back critical features of welfare reform. That is why House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), along with Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) introduced a resolution that will block the administration from implementing its controversial waiver scheme.

H. J. Res. 118  
This important resolution will:
•    Express Congress’s disapproval of the Obama administration’s regulatory effort to weaken welfare reform;  
•    Prevent the administration from implementing its plan to waive the work requirements of the 1996 welfare reform law; and
•    Preserve critical reforms that have helped lift millions of American families out of poverty.  
According to a recent survey, more than 80 percent of the American people support the work requirements at the heart of welfare reform. These reforms have raised earnings, lowered poverty, and reduced government dependence. H. J. Res. 118 ensures this progress is not undermined by President Obama’s misguided executive overreach.

In July, the Obama Administration took action to dismantle the work requirement that was central to the success of the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms.  As the data below shows, that action will undo policies that have led to more work and earnings and less welfare dependence and poverty among low-income Americans.  House Republicans know that these programs help pull people out of government assistance programs.  Any efforts to dismantle existing work requirements will trap, not help release, Americans who want to succeed in entering the workforce and supporting their families.    

Since the work-based 1996 welfare reforms were enacted:

Work and earnings rose….
•    The employment of single mothers increased by 15 percent from 1996 through 2000, and even after the recession it is still higher than before welfare reform. (Source: Congressional Research Service estimates based on Census Bureau data)
•    According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ latest report on the TANF program, "earnings in female-headed families remained higher in 2009 than in 1996 despite various shifts in the economic climate since TANF's enactment." (Source: Department of Health and Human Services)

…while welfare dependence and poverty has fallen.
•    Since it replaced the New Deal-era Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in 1996, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has been successful at cutting welfare dependence as caseloads have declined by 57 percent through December 2011. (Source: Department of Health and Human Services)
•    Child poverty in female-headed households fell dramatically after welfare reform and the child poverty rate is still below the level in the early 1990s. (Source: Census Bureau)
Charge: HHS has not “gutted” welfare reform.
Response: Work requirements were at the core of welfare reform, and they have been the centerpiece of the law for 16 years. HHS now claims that work requirements are no longer mandatory, and that States can apply to HHS to opt out of the requirements. By claiming these requirements can be waived, HHS is claiming they can rewrite the central feature of the law—gutting welfare reform.

Charge: In 2005 then Governor Romney and other Republican governors supported waivers of work requirements.
Response: In their 2005 letter, the governors requested administrative flexibility to better coordinate a number of social services programs, including TANF.  They did not request waivers from TANF work requirements.  In fact, the Senate legislation they wrote in support of strengthened work requirements, raising the share of adults on welfare expected to work from 50 percent to 70 percent.

Charge: HHS will only approve waivers resulting in more work, and States must increase by 20 percent the number of people leaving welfare for work.
Response: HHS has provided little detail on what waivers they might approve, and didn’t even mention this “20 percent more people leaving welfare for work” idea in the initial guidance. It only appeared after Congress objected to their waiving work requirements. While public statements by Obama Administration officials indicate that they will only approve waivers resulting in more work, no binding policy—or real details—exists to support these claims.  The Washington Post’s fact checkers confirm this, calling Democrats’ claims of increasing work “a stretch,” and stating that it is not clear “that the net result is that more people on welfare will end up working.”

Charge: The authority to waive welfare work requirements already exists, and HHS is only providing “guidance” to States about how they can apply for it.
Response: Even the Obama campaign disagrees with HHS on this, calling the HHS “guidance” a “new policy” creating “new options” for States to avoid the work requirements.  And both the nonpartisan GAO and CRS dismissed the HHS argument that this is only “guidance,” telling Congress that the HHS policy constitutes a rule that is subject to review and disapproval through the Congressional Review Act.

Charge: Republicans are attacking plans to provide more help for those out of work because they only care about the wealthiest Americans.
Response: Republicans drove the 1996 reforms because they want to pull all Americans out of poverty. Republicans know the best way out of poverty is a job, and it is critical that our laws promote self-sufficiency and economic advancement for every American. In the years following the 1996 reforms, poverty among all single mothers fell by 30 percent and the number of individuals who needed welfare dropped by 57 percent. Poverty among African American children dropped to its lowest level in 2001 and employment and earnings among single mothers increased significantly. The 1996 reforms represent a success story for the impoverished as the number of families reliant on welfare has declined considerably since the reforms were enacted.  

“He passed a law to move people from welfare to work, slashed the rolls by eighty percent.” (Senator Barack Obama, Presidential campaign advertisement, June 30, 2008)

“I proposed a concept of welfare to work in 1987, and I was pilloried by my colleagues on the Democratic side at the time for suggesting that there be mandatory a work requirement for anyone receiving welfare.” (Senator Joe Biden, July 18, 1996)

“I made my principles for real welfare reform very clear from the beginning.  First and foremost, it should be about moving people from welfare to work.” (President Bill Clinton, July 31, 1996)

“In order for welfare reform to be successful, individuals must accept the responsibility of working and providing for their families.  In the instances where benefits are provided, they must be tied to obligations.  We must invest our resources on those who value work and responsibility.  Moreover, we must support strict requirements which move people from dependence to independence.  Granting rights without demanding responsibility is unacceptable.” (Congressman Steny Hoyer, July 31, 1996)

“Everyone agrees if you are able to work, you should be working.  Every taxpayer should be angry and annoyed to find people slipping back on their responsibilities and not working.” (Congressman Charlie Rangel, July 31, 1996)

“Welfare should be a temporary transition from welfare to work.” (Congressman Jim Clyburn, July 31, 1996)

“In place of a welfare program built around welfare checks, we need a program built around helping people get paychecks.  We need to move people toward work and independence.  And we need to be tough on work…” (Congressman Earl Blumenauer, July 31, 1996)

“For the past few years, I have talked, from time to time, about the need to enact bipartisan welfare reform, which demands responsibility from day one, requires work, and releases welfare families from the cycle of dependency.” (Senator Tom Harkin, July 18, 1996)

“…I believe work requirements should be clear and should be strong and should be applied promptly.” (Senator Carl Levin, July 19, 1996)

“The first priority for welfare reform is to put welfare recipients to work.  The public demands that we stop giving cash to adults on welfare, and start giving them jobs, and they’re right.  Virtually all welfare experts, both liberal and conservative, agree that work and its rewards are the solution to the welfare crisis.” (Senator Joe Lieberman, July 19, 1996)

“I believe it is an important change.  Yes, people ought to work.  Hardworking American citizens should not be required to carry people.” (Senator John Kerry, August 1, 1996)
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch Release GAO Report Undermining Obama Administration Claims to Waiver Authority

HHS Previously Said It Did Not Have Authority to Waive Welfare Work Requirements – and Even the Obama Administration Denied Having Waiver Authority until 2012

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch FOX News Op-Ed

Welfare work requirements are a success -- Obama's plans to change them must be stopped

Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch Editorial

Welfare Reform: Gutted – IV

(Courtesy of the Committees on Ways and Means and Education and the Workforce and the House Republican Conference)