Economy & Budget

House passes resolution rebuking HHS for waiving welfare work rules

House passes resolution rebuking HHS for waiving welfare work rules
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

The House on Thursday passed a resolution condemning the Obama administration for allowing states to bypass rules requiring that many welfare recipients actively seek employment as a condition for receiving the cash benefits.

The measure passed on a mostly party-line vote of 250 to 164, all Republicans voted in favor along with 19 Democrats and it was opposed solely by Democrats.

The work requirement was part of welfare reform legislation passed by a Republican Congress in 1996 and signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.

Republicans say the work requirement was a key part of the overall reform, which requires that 50 percent of a state’s caseload be engaged in work.

The waiver giving state’s more room in enforcing the work requirement was issued by the Health and Human Service Department (HHS) this summer.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and an author of the legislation, said it also specified that the work requirement could not be waived.

“That is because it was such an important part of the change we were trying to bring to welfare,” Camp said. “Now comes the administration saying we don’t have to go to congress to change the law.”

The Obama administration is “having unelected bureaucrats change the law of the land,” Camp said.

President Barack Obama needs to respect the separation of powers between the branches of government, said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

“The president has said that if Congress will not act, he will do it alone,” Gowdy said. “No sir, you will not.”

“There has been an erosion of congressional authority and we have ceded it to the executive branch,” Gowdy said.

Democrats defended Obama and the rules change, including Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York, who said states like his don’t have the same job opportunities as Alaska or Hawaii.

Other Democrats described the resolution as a politically motivated resolution, political poppycock, and an exercise in hypocrisy and beneath the dignity of the House.

“It’s an anti-work resolution masquerading as pro-work,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “They’re a little desperate to think they can hoodwink us to turn our neighbors and divide us.”

Added Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.): “Those waivers allow flexibility to governors to run the program the most effective and efficient ay possible. One size does not fit all.”

Republicans say the reforms helped move half of those on the welfare rolls to the job market, but Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) called it a “lie” that the reforms ever worked.

“They say it’s a raving success that took people out of poverty and gave them dignity and gave them jobs. The reality is it kicked people off the rolls,” Moore said.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office said the new guidance for the program qualifies as a rule, and should have been submitted to Congress for its approval. A second report released this week cites previous HHS secretaries acknowledging that waivers were forbidden, and says this summer’s action sets a new precedent.

“HHS seems intent now to simply make up the rules as they go along,” said Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.).

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