But Republicans say the waiver would weaken a critical piece of the law — the requirement to prepare for work, which they say has already helped move millions of people off of welfare. And their bill, H.R. 890, would explicitly prohibit the HHS waiver.
"These work requirements have led to more work, more earning, less welfare dependence and less poverty among low-income Americans," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said of the so-called welfare-to-work requirements during debate on the rule.
"What were the results of the 1996 reform? America saw the greatest reduction in poverty among children since the 1960s," he added. "The employment rate for single mothers in 2010 is higher than it was in 1996, even thought the unemployment rate itself has almost doubled during that period of time. And poverty among single mothers has fallen by 30 percent.
"We should not allow the administration to undo by an informational memorandum what Congress and presidents of the past have been able to accomplish by statute."
Democrats charged Republicans with trying to weaken an Obama administration policy that they said would give states more choices in how to reduce welfare dependency, and relieve them from the paperwork associated with the work requirement. Several Democrats noted that under the HHS policy, waivers would only be given to states that propose a plan aimed at moving 20 percent more people into jobs.
"In allowing states the flexibility from rigid TANF requirements, the administration requires that any changes provide a more efficient or effective means to promote employment," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. "Under such requirements, it is impossible to assert that these changes will weaken the federal efforts to move citizens from welfare to work."
The bill also extends the TANF program until the end of this year, something Democrats support and something that could prompt more Democrats to support the bill.