Welfare waiver in stimulus bill more than doubled able-bodied food-stamp recipients by 2010

Debate continues over whether Barack Obama’s command to waive the work requirement of the 1996 welfare reform is legal, and if it offers states a way out of effectively enforcing the Able-bodied Adults Without Dependents rule that required those recipients to start working at some job in order to receive benefits.  A new report from the Congressional Research Service released last week to Rep. Eric Cantor shows that the previous temporary waiver of this work authorized by Congress in the 2009 stimulus plan resulted in a massive increase in ABAWD-related claims.  The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein gets the scoop:

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.”

Some might wonder whether the doubling was part of the overall growth in the SNAP program that resulted from the Great Recession.  That would be a good question, but CRS data (Table 1) shows pretty clearly that the ABAWD increase far outstripped it.   From FY2007 to FY2010, SNAP participants increased by 53.4%, a staggering amount.  But in that same period, ABAWD participants increased by 126.9%, even though by definition they are the most able to find work in the program.  Calculated from FY2008, the increases are 43% and 103%; from FY2009, 21% and 40%.  Each time, the ABAWD increase outstripped the overall increase, although able-bodied adults should have been more successful at finding work to stay off of SNAP.

Clearly the waiver had a disproportionate effect on those able to work.  Whether that was the intent of the order is really beside the point — the result was the gutting of the work requirement imposed by a bipartisan effort in 1996 and signed by Bill Clinton.  Congress refused to authorize the waiver for FY2011 and FY2012, but Obama insisted on imposing it by executive fiat, arguing that it would allow states to set the conditions and not bypass the work requirement.  The data from his first waiver shows pretty clearly that if Obama intended to keep the work requirement in place, he failed miserably in that stimulus plan.

Steve Eggleston points out that the loophole has one benefit for Obama:


I’m not sure that was the intent, but it doesn’t matter.  That was the outcome.