President Obama continues to build his reputation as the food stamp and dependency president, this time by offering waivers from the work requirement for welfare recipients.
On July 12, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an official policy directive which allows the HHS to “waive compliance” with the work requirement for able-bodied people, ignoring the clear intent of Congress to protect welfare from abuse.
The federal work requirement for welfare recipients originates from bipartisan support in former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform law. The work requirement of welfare recipients remains enormously popular; according to a Rasmussen poll released in July, 83 percent percent of Americans favor the requirement.
On Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s campaign released a video highlighting President Obama’s opposition to federal work requirements for welfare recipients, putting him at odds with prominent Democrats, including his own Vice President.
The Obama administration rejects the claim that the directive takes the work out of welfare, arguing that any alternative welfare plans enacted by the states are still supposed to ensure people are moving from welfare to work.
Clinton, likely in an attempt to avoid another situation where he undercuts Obama’s message and praises Mitt Romney, addressed the Romney campaign’s claim that Obama “gutted” welfare-reform in a statement, saying:
“Governor Romney released an ad [Tuesday] alleging that the Obama administration had weakened the work requirements of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. That is not true. The [Obama] Administration has taken important steps to ensure that the work requirement is retained and that waivers will be granted only if a state can demonstrate that more people will be moved into work under its new approach.”
In a press call hosted by the Republican National Committee, Newt Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House when welfare reform passed and who originally declared Obama to be the “food stamp president”, said “Obama’s entire record as president has focused on increasing the number of people on food stamps, increasing the amount of dependency, attacking the people who create jobs…”
Gingrich argued that the reform’s legislative language was written “not to be waivable.”
David Camp (R-MI), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to cite where the agency has the authority to wave the work requirement. The letter from HHS in response simply asserted the waiver power without citing any evidence. Camp says that “if this administration wants to have the authority to waive work requirements, they should submit a legislative proposal to Congress to change the law, and not attempt to do so by administrative fiat.”
Despite Democratic skepticism of the work requirement in 1996, welfare caseloads declined by 50 percent within four years of the law’s passage, and by 70 percent by the time Obama took office.