In July, the Obama Administration waived the core work requirements of the historic welfare reform law of 1996, which law required a portion of the able-bodied recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving aid. The new bureaucratic directive from Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared that in the future, neither states nor TANF recipients would have to obey these workfare requirements. It replaces those work requirements with new, vague standards devised by HHS without any congressional input, such as “employment exits” and “universal engagement.”
The mainstream press has defended this illegal waiver, declaring that the Obama Administration merely wants to “tweak” the law’s work standards. But the Obama policy does not “tweak” the work provisions in the law. In fact, it does not just weaken the law’s work requirements; in many cases, the policy would bypass those work requirements entirely. The HHS directive establishing the new policy repeatedly asserts that the Administration will exempt states from the law’s “work participation requirements” and replace those work requirements with new standards devised by HHS without any congressional input.