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White House attacks legislative push to shore up welfare work requirement

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

President Obama policy aides attacked a Republican bill that would block the Department of Health and Human Services from waiving the work requirements associated with the 1996 welfare reform bill, even as the White House continued to deny that it had authorized such waivers.

“With respect to the provision in H.R. 890 to limit State flexibility to strengthen the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, the Administration notes that this flexibility was requested by Governors on both sides of the aisle to allow States to test new, more effective ways to place more people on a path to self-sufficiency,” the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a policy statement today. “The Administration is disappointed that the bill includes this unnecessary bar to innovative welfare-to-work strategies.”

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., introduced the bill. “Nothing in current law prohibits a State from strengthening its work requirements and moving more individuals from welfare to work,” Camp said during a hearing last week.  “Instead, a waiver would only be needed to weaken the work requirements, as the Administration wishes to do, pure and simple.”

Last year, The Washington Examiner editors disputed the White House’s denial that the HHS memo waived  on work requirements during the last election.

“Obama’s July HHS memo invites states to apply for waivers that change the ‘definitions of work activities’ to better meet ‘the work goals’ of welfare reform,” the editors wrote. “In other words, the state of California could (as one state did before 1996, according to the Government Accountability Office) count Weight Watchers attendance as “work,” and thus keep more people on the state’s welfare rolls without making them work. This is exactly the type of administrative discretion that welfare reform was designed to prevent.”

The Examiner noted that the memo invites states to develop “[p]rojects that test the impact of a comprehensive universal engagement system in lieu of certain participation rate requirements.”

By contrast, the governors’ request for flexibility “would have actually toughened federal work requirements, raising the mandatory participation rates for recipients within each state from 50 percent to 70 percent,” according to the editors.

“At the time, the provision was referred to as the “superwaiver,” and left-wing groups attacked it as threatening low-income families’ access to benefits,” they explained. “Its aim was to help states consolidate the running of multiple welfare programs operated by multiple federal departments (Agriculture for food stamps, Housing and Urban Development for rental assistance, Energy for heating assistance, HHS for cash welfare, etc.) without running afoul of the web of federal laws that govern them all.”

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, although he argued that Mitt Romney released misleading ads about the HHS work requirement memo, did find that “the original HHS memo makes no mention of” any requirement that states in receipt of the proposed waiver show any progress in getting more welfare recipients into jobs.

Although OMB criticized Camp’s provision pertaining to TANF, Obama does not oppose the larger bill. “The Administration is committed to working with the Congress and States to strengthen the Nation’s welfare programs to get more Americans employed and on a path to long-term self-sufficiency,” OMB said.

Here’s the full statement:

The Administration is committed to working with the Congress and States to strengthen the Nation’s welfare programs to get more Americans employed and on a path to long-term self-sufficiency.  Accordingly, the Administration does not oppose the extension of authority and funding included in H.R. 890, Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013.  With respect to the provision in H.R. 890 to limit State flexibility to strengthen the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, the Administration notes that this flexibility was requested by Governors on both sides of the aisle to allow States to test new, more effective ways to place more people on a path to self-sufficiency.  Ultimately, no States formally applied for State waivers, deterred in part by inaccurate claims about what the policy involves; therefore, the limiting provision would have no practical effect on any pending application.  The Administration is disappointed that the bill includes this unnecessary bar to innovative welfare-to-work strategies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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