GAO: Obama Admin Circumvented Law with Welfare Waivers

September 5, 2012 - 3:57 PM
Rep. Dave Camp

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) The Obama administration circumvented federal law in announcing it would waive the work requirements in welfare, a GAO review found, saying that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should have submitted the new policy to Congress for review.

At issue is whether the policy falls under the purview of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that requires all administrative changes of policy or regulation be submitted to Congress for review and possible disapproval.

The GAO, in a letter to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said that the July 12 change in policy falls under the CRA and should have been submitted to Congress for approval.

“We find that the July 12 Information Memorandum issued by HHS is a statement of general applicability and future effect, designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy with regard to TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the formal name for welfare],” GAO said in its Sept. 4 letter.

“[T]he Information Memorandum is subject to the requirement that it be submitted to both Houses of Congress and the Comptroller General before it can take effect.”

In other words, HHS must formally submit the letter to Congress and the Comptroller General before it can legally issue the waivers to the requirement that a certain portion of welfare recipients work.

GAO noted that it had not determined whether or not HHS had the legal authority to waive the work requirements in the first place, just that it must follow its legal obligations under the CRA.

HHS had contended that it had complied with the law when it notified both House and Senate committees of its new policy July 12, an argument GAO rejected saying that informal notice did not satisfy the law.

“Finally, while HHS may have informally notified the Congressional committees of the issuance of the Information Memorandum, informal notification does not meet the reporting requirements of the CRA.”

According to GAO, federal law requires that the government submit any proposed changes in federal regulations or rules to Congress, so that it may act to formally disapprove and stop the rule from taking effect. GAO found that any rule that is meant to “implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy” must be submitted to Congress before it can take effect.

In July, HHS issued a memorandum to states announcing it would begin waiving the welfare-to-work requirements for those states who wanted to change their current welfare-to-work programs, including the definitions of what qualifies as work and how states calculate who is and who is not working.

Camp, whose office released the GAO finding, said that HHS’ waiver policy amounted to an “end-run” around Congress.

“Despite his latest attempt at an end-run around Congress, this GAO report clearly states that the Administration must submit this rule to Congress for review before it can take effect. Work requirements were the centerpiece of welfare reform, and we cannot allow that progress to be undone,” Camp said in a statement Tuesday.