Obama administration officials have insisted that their decision to grant states waivers to redefine work requirements for welfare recipients would not “gut” the landmark 1996 welfare reform law. But a new report from the Congressional Research Service obtained by the Washington Examiner suggests that the administration’s suspension of a separate welfare work requirement has already helped explode the number of able-bodied Americans on food stamps.
In addition to the broader work requirement that has become a contentious issue in the presidential race, the 1996 welfare reform law included a separate rule encouraging able-bodied adults without dependents to work by limiting the amount of time they could receive food stamps. President Obama suspended that rule when he signed his economic stimulus legislation into law, and the number of these adults on food stamps doubled, from 1.9 million in 2008 to 3.9 million in 2010, according to the CRS report, issued in the form of a memo to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
“This report once again confirms that President Obama has severely gutted the welfare work requirements that Americans have overwhelmingly supported since President Clinton signed them into law,” Cantor said in an emailed statement. “It’s time to reinstate these common-sense measures, and focus on creating job growth for those in need.”
Under the rule adopted in 1996, food stamps for able-bodied adults without dependents were limited to three months in a 36-month period unless the participant in the program “works at least 20 hours a week; participates in an employment and training program for at least 20 hours per week; or participates in a (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) ‘workfare’ program for at least 20 hours per week.”
Obama’s economic stimulus legislation suspended the rule for all states starting April 2009. Delaware continued to enforce the rule anyway, along with New York City and parts of Colorado, South Dakota, and Texas. This suspension expired at the end of the 2010 fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2010) and Congress rebuffed Obama’s requests to extend it in his fiscal years 2011 and 2012 budgets. However, Obama used his regulatory authority to effectively extend the waivers to nearly all states over the past two years. (The law grants the executive the authority to do this in states where the unemployment rate is above 10 percent or there’s a “lack of sufficient jobs.”)
Though the weakening of the economy would have led to an increase in food stamp usage with or without a waiver, the doubling of the use of food stamps by the able-bodied population without dependents exceeded the 43 percent increase in food stamp usage among the broader population over the same 2008 to 2010 time frame. This gives more weight to the idea that the waiver fueled the food stamp growth among the population it affected, beyond where it would have been even in a weak economy.
The CRS report does not have data for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years.
Read the full report here.