Jul 13 2012
An Analysis of How the Obama Administration is Undermining Welfare Reform
In a questionable guidance scheme released yesterday to states, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) believes it can unilaterally grant itself the authority to exempt states from the work requirements that were a critical element of welfare reform and that could allow states to allow things like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to count as a work activity to receive these government benefits.
The 1996 welfare reform bill, otherwise known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), ended welfare as an entitlement and empowered states with the authority to create unique and robust welfare to work programs. A central feature of devolution of federal authority back to the states was a vigorous work requirement for states, including a specific set of activities that qualified as “work.”
Over the years, as states used the reduction in the welfare caseload to mitigate compliance with the 1996 TANF work requirement, the focus on vital welfare to work initiatives diminished.
In 2005, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported that several states listed as part of their definition of a “federal work activity” under TANF the following:
1. Bed rest
2. Personal care activities
6. Motivational reading
7. Smoking cessation
8. Weight loss promotion
9. Participating in parent teacher meetings
10. Helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands
In the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), Congress reigned in loosening these TANF work requirement definitions, which then-Senator Obama opposed. The authority to fund TANF ended at the end of FY 2010. There has not been a reauthorization of the TANF programs and funding has continued on a stop gap basis.
Through Executive fiat and by bypassing Congress, the Obama Administration is undermining the important work reforms Congress enacted 7 years ago.
With unemployment remaining stuck over 8 percent, most Americans would not consider bed rest, smoking cessation classes and journaling as “work.” However, in yet another manifestation of the failed economic policies of the Obama Administration, under this waiver scheme, the Obama Administration grants itself the authority to undo what Congress enacted in 2005 and opens the door to allowing states to count “bed rest” as a work activity for purposes of complying with TANF.