September 10,2012

Press Contact:

Julia Lawless, Antonia Ferrier, 202.224.4515

Democrats’ Dubious Welfare Work Requirement Claims

After granting itself the legal authority to side-step Congress and unilaterally undo the welfare work requirements included in the bipartisan 1996 bipartisan welfare reform law, the Obama Administration continues to mislead the American public with dubious claims regarding state flexibility and stronger work standards.

Here’s a closer look at the facts:

MYTH: Waiving the work requirements included in the bipartisan 1996 welfare reform law (Section 407 of the Social Security Act) is needed to provide states with more flexibility.
(Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Information Memorandum, July 12, 2012)

FACT: States currently have great flexibility under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Section 407 of the Social Security Act outlines the activities and time requirements states must engage welfare recipients in to meet the work requirement provisions included in the 1996 welfare reform law. Under current law, there are twelve activities, including community service programs, job skills training, and education, that a state can define as “work.”  

In addition, Section 407 provides that in order to avoid a federal penalty, states are required to meet a participation rate.  The 1996 reform bill contemplated that to successfully meet this rate, states must ensure half of its welfare caseload is engaged in 30 hours of activities.  For mothers with a pre-school aged child, the standard is 20 hours. States can get credit towards their participation rate by reducing their welfare caseloads and by increasing their Maintenance of Effort spending.  (Source: Section 407 of the Social Security Act)

MYTH: Waiving the work requirements would allow the Administration to “explore new ways to strengthen work requirements.”
 (Source: Letter to Ranking Member Hatch from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, July 18, 2012)

FACT: Under current law, there are no restrictions if a state wants to increase the federal work requirement under Section 407.  A state does not need a waiver from Section 407 to: limit the number of activities that it considers work; increase the required hours of work for welfare recipients; or increase the number of able bodied adults who are working in exchange for their welfare check.

Even more, the Administration’s action could actually weaken work standards, potentially opening the door for activities like bed rest, smoking cessation and exercise to be counted as work for the purposes of complying with federal TANF requirements. (Source: Section 407 of the Social Security Act)

MYTH:  Republican Governors in the past have “supported and even proposed such waivers,” citing a 2005 letter to Senate Republicans from governors.
(Source: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at a press briefing, July 18, 2012)

FACT: While states across the country have asked the federal government for more flexibility regarding the TANF program, at no point have Republican Governors requested the waiving of work requirements under TANF. In fact, in the 2005 letter to Republican Senators referenced by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Republican Governors praised the Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone (PRIDE) Act which would have increased the hour requirement and the participant rate requirement for states.
(Source: Republican Governors Letter to Senators, May 19, 2005)

MYTH: The Administration has the authority to unilaterally exempt states from the work requirements that were a critical element of welfare reform enacted in 1996 without the consultation of Congress.
 (Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Information Memorandum, July 12, 2012)

FACT: A new analysis by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Obama Administration’s decision to waive TANF work requirements qualified as a rule that must be submitted to Congress and that is subject to review – and potential disapproval – under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). (Source: Analysis by GAO, September 4, 2012)