White House: Obama Not Gutting Welfare Reform, GOP Criticism 'Hypocrisy'

July 18, 2012 - 5:16 PM

Cracking Down on Welfare

Lisa Crawford, an intern at JEVS Human Services, works a reception desk, Monday, July 16, 2012, in Philadelphia. States across the country are enacting welfare benefit restrictions that prohibit recipients from using their cash assistance at certain businesses and from buying items, like alcohol and lottery tickets. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied the Obama administration was trying to undermine the work requirements of the 1996 welfare reform law and said the Department of Health and Human Services waiver proposal is similar to what Republican lawmakers backed in the last decade.

Late last week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to unilaterally – without approval from Congress – move to grant waivers to states from the work requirements that were a key element of welfare reform passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

The act replaced Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), changing welfare from an entitlement to a system to move able-bodied people into the workforce.

“Those requirements are fundamental to gains made in the past 15 years for moving people from welfare to work,” Carney told reporters. “This administration opposes any effort to undermine work requirements. The changes proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services are designed to accelerate job placement by moving Americans from welfare to work as quickly as possible.

“There will be no waivers of the time limits in the law, and only waivers with compelling plans to move more people off of welfare to work will be considered. This policy will allow states to test new, more effective ways to help people get and keep a job,” he added.

Carney went on to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy, citing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as a one time supporter of such waivers. He also named former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley.

“I have been surprised by it, by the hypocrisy of our critics. Many of them have in the past supported and even proposed such waivers. Gov. Romney. Gov. Barbour. Gov. Huckabee. Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. Grassley who have all supported these kinds of waivers for states in the past,” Carney said.

“In a 2005 letter to the Senate, Republican governors, including then Gov. Romney, requested such waivers. Under President George W. Bush, HHS Secretary Thompson put forward a proposal that would allow quote ‘super waivers.’ The Senate, under Republican control at the time, passed a bill authored by Sen. Grassley with broad waiver authority,” he said.

“Just last year, states led by Democrats and Republicans, called for these very waivers so they could have more flexibility in putting more people back to work faster. Given this long, documented history of bipartisan support, it is surprising to say the least, to see this kind of flip flopping on the part of Republicans,” Carney added.

Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny said that when the senator proposed the bill as chairman of the Finance Committee in 2005, the goal was to make work requirements stronger, not waivers.

"As far as then-Chairman Grassley’s bill in 2005, it increased participation hours from 30 to 34 per week and set a hard cap on the state participation rate," Kozeny told CNSNews.com in a statement. "When the bill was marked up in the Finance Committee, no Democratic senators voted for it. On the Senate floor, the Democratic caucus launched a filibuster against it."

She added that Senate Democrats said Grassley's proposal did not have enough flexibility.

According to the Senate Finance Committee Republicans, over the years, the focus on welfare to work initiatives diminished.

A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found several states listed as part of their definition of a “federal work activity” under TANF to allow bed rest, personal care activities, massage, exercise, journaling, motivational reading, smoking cessation, weight loss promotion, participating in parent teacher meetings and helping friends or relatives in household errands.

In the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, Congress reined in loosening these TANF work requirement definitions. Then Sen. Barack Obama voted against reining those requirements in. The authority to fund TANF ended at the end of fiscal year 2010. There has not been a reauthorization, and funding has come through various continuing resolutions.

Most Republicans, such as House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline of Minnesota, believe President Obama is seeking to gut the 1996 reform.

“In 1996, the Republican Congress worked with President Clinton to fix a broken welfare system. This joint effort reduced poverty and helped millions of Americans move off government assistance and into a job,” Kline said in a statement.

“Regrettably, the bipartisan achievement is now being eviscerated by President Obama’s partisan agenda. The president’s plan to gut the work requirements at the center of welfare reform is both unprecedented and contrary to the law’s intent. This executive overreach will lead to more dependency and less hope for those who need assistance,” he said.