Yesterday afternoon, President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services issued a directive effectively waiving work requirements that have been the fundamental component of the 1996 welfare reform law. The law, hailed by both Republicans and Democrats as an extremely successful piece of legislation, cut the number of people on welfare in half.
Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley of the Heritage Foundation explain how the department was able to make such a directive:
Today the Obama administration issued a dramatic new directive stating that the traditional TANF work requirements will be waived or overridden by a legal device called a section 1115 waiver authority under the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. 1315).
Section 1115 allows HHS to "waive compliance" with specified parts of various laws. But this is not an open-ended authority: All provisions of law that can be overridden under section 1115 must be listed in section 1115 itself.
The work provisions of the TANF program are contained in section 407 (entitled, appropriately, "mandatory work requirements"). Critically, this section, as well as most other TANF requirements, is deliberately not listed in section 1115; its provisions cannot be waived. Obviously, if the Congress had wanted HHS to be able to waive the TANF work requirements laid out in section 407, it would have listed that section as waivable under section 1115. It did not do that. …
Obama’s new welfare decree guts sound anti-poverty policy. The administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices — a pattern that has become all too common in this administration.
The result is the end of welfare reform as we know it."
Mickey Kaus writes at the Daily Caller:
If this is a political move, I don’t understand it. Requiring that welfare recipients work is a political winner–proven, again and again. Welfare horror stories helped elect Ronald Reagan. A promise to ‘end welfare as we know it' elected President Clinton–every time Clinton got into trouble he’d just start running welfare reform ads. And in 2008, Barack Obama didn’t dare suggest that he wanted to do what he has done today.
Mitt Romney released this statement:
President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare. The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The President's action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.