Lawmakers and analysts on the right say President Obama may have acted illegally by modifying a work requirement within federal welfare laws.
The president last week instructed his Secretary of Health and Human Services to consider granting waivers to states that no longer wish to require welfare recipients to prove that they are actively seeking employment. The provision became law back in 1997 as part of a broader welfare reform package that transformed the program into a federal block grant to states. It was widely credited by both Democrats and Republicans with helping reduce state welfare rolls by roughly 70 percent by the time Obama entered office.
Yet several state administrators have complained that their welfare officers are often bogged down by paperwork relating to the work requirement. As a result, they say, officers don’t get to spend enough time helping welfare recipients find actual jobs.
In a memo to states on Thursday, HHS chief Kathleen Sebelius announced that her agency will begin “to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”
Some conservatives reacted by accusing the president of overstepping his authority by issuing the directive.
“Given the clear, unambiguous, and binding legal prohibition for that type of waiver, if they were consulted, the lawyers involved were embarrassingly careless in approving language that is in direct violation of federal law,” wrote Heritage Foundation bloggers Todd Gaziano and Robert Alt. “Because there is no legal basis for permitting the waivers at issue, HHS needs to follow the law and withdraw the illegal Memorandum.”
“Federal law expressly prohibits the Secretary from waiving the work requirements!” the pair added.
A handful of congressional Republicans have voiced opposition to the move, as well. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) wrote to Sebelius on Friday, asking her to explain the legal reasoning behind the administration’s decision.
“Last week, the Obama Administration took action to dismantle the work requirement that was central to the success of the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms,” Camp said in a statement. ”That action will undo policies that have led to more work and earnings and less welfare dependence and poverty among low-income Americans.”