Obama administration guts work requirements for Clinton-era welfare reform

The landmark welfare reform law President Bill Clinton signed in 1996 helped move nearly 3 million families off the government dole — the result of federal work requirements that promoted greater self-reliance.

Yesterday the Obama administration gutted those federal work rules, ignoring the will of Congress by issuing a policy directive that allows the Department of Health and Human Services to waive the work requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. “The result is the end of welfare reform,” wrote Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley of The Heritage Foundation.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), author of welfare reform legislation, said in response to the news:

President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract. In exchange for taxpayer-funded TANF payments, the law calls on able-bodied adults to work, look for work, take classes, or undergo drug and alcohol counseling. It’s the tough love that gives people motivation to help themselves.

The administration’s decision follows other recent executive actions on immigration, marriage, religion, education and energy policies. In each case, President Obama has put his own “imperial presidency” ahead of Congress and federal law.

The latest maneuver is particularly alarming given the rising number of Americans who rely on the government for aid. Obama has dramatically increased welfare spending. TANF, the program in question, is just one of more than 70 welfare programs operated by the government at a cost of nearly $1 trillion per year.

Jordan, who leads the conservative Republican Study Committee, last year spearheaded a plan to reform welfare. The Welfare Reform Act of 2011 would require recipients of food stamps to work or prepare for a job, disclose the costs of total federal, state, and local welfare spending, and return welfare spending to its 2007 level once unemployment hits 6.5 percent.

The administration’s action goes in the opposite direction, Jordan warned: “By waiving the law’s requirements, President Obama will make it harder for Americans to escape poverty. He is hurting the very people he claims to help.”

UPDATE: In response to widespread criticism, the Obama administration is (predictably) dismissing the significance of its policy directive. George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said the change will give states greater flexibility to spend more time assisting individuals and less time on paperwork.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @RobertBluey

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