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Obama’s Effort to Dismantle Welfare Reform Goes Unnoticed by Mainstream Media

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and the department she heads are acting under President Obama’s direction to effectively remove a key aspect of the landmark welfare reform of 1996. The Department of Health and Human Services will issue waivers for the federal work requirement of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program this coming Thursday.

The “Information Memorandum” states that the agency will be issuing waivers for TANF’s work participation requirements for parents and caretakers as a way to find new approaches to better employment outcomes.

“While the TANF work participation requirements are contained in section 407, section 402(a)(1)(A)(iii) requires that the state plan ‘[e]nsure that parents and caretakers receiving assistance under the program engage in work activities in accordance with section 407,’” the memo, signed by HHS Director of the Office of Family Assistance, Earl Johnson, explained. “Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.”

The president’s executive order is seen by many as a violation of the welfare reform law of 1996. Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan says the memorandum is proof of the Obama administration’s continued disrespect for the rule of law:

“President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract,” Jordan said in a statement. “In exchange for taxpayer-funded TANF payments, the law calls on able-bodied adults to work, look for work, take classes, or undergo drug and alcohol counseling. It’s the tough love that gives people motivation to help themselves…Today’s action is also a blatant violation of the law. After immigration, education, marriage, and religious conscience protections, we can now add welfare reform to the list of laws President Obama refuses to follow.”

Byron York of the Washington Examiner points out that the reform act “originally vetoed but later signed into law by President Bill Clinton, is widely viewed as the most successful policy initiative in a generation. Under it, the growth in welfare rolls was reversed and millions of people moved from welfare to work … Despite its success, however, many liberals remain opposed to reform.  For example, in the years immediately after passage of the law, Barack Obama himself pledged to do all he could to undo it.”

Just a couple of months before the 2008 presidential election, York predicted this would be a goal for President Obama if elected. Writing for the National Review he wrote, “No doubt Obama would agree that that is a bad thing, but when a real attempt to break through that culture of dysfunction — the landmark 1996 welfare-reform bill, now widely accepted as one of the most successful domestic-policy initiatives in a generation — came up, Obama vowed to use all the resources at his disposal to undo it.”

Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation said the Obama administration’s decision marks “the end of welfare reform as we know it.”

House Speaker John Boehner released a statement criticizing the move by the president: “By gutting the work requirements in President Clinton’s signature welfare reform law, President Obama is admitting his economic policies have failed.”

Mitt Romney responded to the directive by saying, “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.”

Creating and undoing legislation by executive order seems to have become the method of choice for the Obama administration.

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