Obama didn’t gut welfare reform
Can conservatives talk about welfare without being called racists? Not according to National Journal’s Ron Fournier who is accusing Mitt Romney of “playing the race card” in his new welfare reform ad. Fournier writes:
The ad is wrong. As countless impartial fact-checkers have noted, the Obama administration memo cited by the Romney team actually gives states flexibility to find better ways of getting welfare recipients into jobs.
This is just plain false. If Fournier had read the memo, which he does not link to, he would know that it was designed to change the definition of “work” so that states could more easily meet welfare work requirements without actually placing beneficiaries into real jobs. First, some history.
The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act signed by President Clinton was not the federal government’s first attempt at welfare reform. In 1988, Congress passed and President Bush signed, the Family Support Act which claimed that “welfare will be replaced by work.” But liberals, joined by some Republican governors, watered down the bills work requirements. As a result, welfare caseloads grew by 30 percent and only to 3 percent of welfare recipients were required to work.
The 1996 bill addressed this problem by including, as the very core of the bill, a strong work requirement that could not be waived or redefined out of existence. The Heritage Foundation’s Andrew Grossman writes:
Section 407 enumerates 12 “work activities”—including subsidized and unsubsidized employment, on-the-job training, and vocational training—that satisfy the state and individual work requirements. It specified the number of hours per week that family members would be required to work to be considered “participating in work activities.” It put a hard cap of 30 percent on the proportion of a state’s welfare recipients who could participate in educational activities and still be counted as engaged in work. Finally, the law requires HHS to oversee and verify states’ compliance with all work requirements.
In addition to the penalties for individuals refusing to work, the 1996 Act established penalties for states that did not comply with Section 407. States that failed to cut off or reduce assistance to such individuals would lose between 1 percent and 5 percent of their TANF funding in the subsequent year, amounting to millions of dollars.
Section 1115 lists seven provisions the requirements of which the Secretary may waive. Section 407 is not among them. Ergo, the Secretary has no authority to waive its requirements.
Fast forward to this July when President Obama’s Health and Human Services Department issued a “information memo” on “Guidance concerning waiver and expenditure authority under Section 1115.” The memo reads:
While the TANF work participation requirements are contained in section 407, section 402(a)(1)(A)(iii) requires that the state plan “[e]nsure that parents and caretakers receiving assistance under the program engage in work activities in accordance with section 407.” Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.
In other words, the Obama welfare memo asserted, for the first time ever, that HHS could grant waivers changing the definition of “work” for welfare’s work requirements. This is similar to how governors, both Democrat and Republican, eviscerated the work requirements of the 1988 welfare reform bill. Under the Obama memo, states would be able to meet their welfare to work requirements, and avoid mandatory federal penalties, by enrolling beneficiaries in “personal journaling, motivational reading, exercise at home, smoking cessation, and weight loss promotion”programs, not actual jobs. This would be a pretty handy out for a state like California with 10.8 percent unemployment rate.
The Obama administration has not yet granted any waivers under the new policy established by the HHS memo. And with the heat of the election on, they almost assuredly will not do so any time soon. But after the election, Obama’s welfare memo will give HHS the authority to redefine welfare to work out of existence.