House to challenge Obama's waivers from welfare-to-work requirements

The House next week will take up legislation aimed at blocking President Obama's decision to waive rules that condition federal welfare assistance on efforts by recipients to find a job.

House Republicans will bring up the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act, H.R. 890, as early as Wednesday.

The bill, from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), says explicitly that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cannot waive the welfare work requirement. 

The bill is a reaction to HHS guidance from last summer that allowed states to apply for waivers under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to test new ways to increase employment among welfare recipients. Officials say the waivers will be revoked if the pilot programs don't meet certain targets.  

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The work requirement was a component of the 1996 welfare reform bill that then-President Clinton signed into law. Republicans credit it with a dramatic reduction in welfare rolls, and argue that reversing it would only create more dependency on federal welfare programs.

The GOP also argues that Obama has no authority to waive the work requirements at all.

"Not only is it bad policy, but the President lacks the authority to erase the work requirements Congress wrote into the bipartisan law," Camp said in February. "This legislation makes it clear — the Obama administration cannot undermine the work requirement that has resulted in higher earnings and employment for low-income individuals."

In addition to blocking the HHS guidance, the bill would extend the TANF program through 2013. TANF is the block grant welfare program created by the 1996 law.

Camp's committee approved the bill in a partisan vote on Wednesday, amid Democratic arguments that the HHS waiver is aimed at giving states more flexibility in how they help people on welfare find work. Ranking committee member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said HHS would only consider waiver requests from states looking to run pilot employment programs, and only if those programs increase employment by 20 percent or more.

"Governors have said that they could put more people to work if they were able to focus more on outcomes and less on bureaucratic requirements," Levin said this week. "In allowing waivers to pursue demonstration projects, HHS responded to these governors by saying — prove it."

The House Rules Committee plans to meet Tuesday to approve a rule for the bill, which means members could start work on the House floor by Wednesday.