Trump restores work requirements for welfare gutted by Obama

By Robert Rector | The Daily Signal

President Donald Trump on Wednesday reversed an Obama administration policy that undermined one of the most successful domestic policy reforms in the last half-century.

In doing so, Trump took strong steps to preserve the original intent of the 1996 welfare reform law: to weaken the cycle of poverty by reducing dependence and promoting self-sufficiency through work and marriage.

This is a sound decision for two key reasons.

First, the decision enforces the 1996 welfare reform law, which deliberately made the core work requirements of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program mandatory and non-waivable by future administrations of the law.

The Obama administration effectively gutted the law’s requirements in July 2012 when it released a policy directive through the Department of Health and Human Services that allowed states to waive the TANF program’s work requirements.

To do this, the Obama administration claimed waiver authority that was illegal and antithetical to the purpose. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services produced no historical evidence that Congress intended to grant waiver authority for the TANF work requirements.

Even if it had tried to do so, it would have come up empty.

The summary of the welfare reform law prepared by Congress shortly after its enactment was clear: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”

The non-partisan Congressional Research Service was even more clear in 2001 when it stated that “there are no TANF waivers” for work requirements.

In allowing states to waive the TANF work requirements, the Obama administration broke from the established knowledge that Congress had never granted such waiver authority to Health and Human Services.

Trump’s reversal of this bureaucratic maneuver marks a return to the original letter and intention of the 1996 reform law.

Second, Trump’s decision returns the TANF program to the principles that made it successful in the first place.

The TANF work requirements, which required a portion of able-bodied adults on the program to work or prepare for work, formed the foundation of the reform’s success: Welfare rolls dropped by 50 percent, and poverty rates for children, especially black children, reached record lows.

The Obama administration’s directive made wholesale changes to the standards created in the 1996 welfare reform law. The law as written contains “participation rate requirements” that stipulate that 30 to 40 percent of adult able-bodied TANF recipients must engage in “work activities” for 20 to 30 hours per week.

These work activities are broadly defined and include: unsubsidized employment, subsidized employment, on-the-job training, up to 12 months of vocational education, community-service work, job-search and job-readiness training, high school or GED education for recipients under age 20, and high school or GED education for those 20 and over if combined with other listed activities.

Although the Obama administration and its media defenders insisted that it was merely “tweaking” TANF reform, it replaced the core work participation requirements with a significantly weaker “universal engagement” system.

Universal engagement typically requires all adult able-bodied TANF recipients to engage in constructive activities—defined very broadly to include things such as visiting a doctor and looking for daycare—for at least one hour per week.

As The Heritage Foundation has previously written, such a standard could be good policy if combined with existing TANF work standards, but Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services implemented it “in lieu of” the TANF requirements.

The Obama administration also encouraged states to abide by alternative performance measures. For example, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested that states could bypass federal work requirements by improving their numbers of people moving from welfare into work, or so-called “employment exits.”

However, this “employment exits” measure is inherently misleading. Rather than serving as meaningful indicators of success, employment exits are often a function of welfare caseloads.

Larger caseloads will yield a greater number of exits simply because there are more people in the system. Historically, the number of employment exists rises as the caseload rises, and falls as the caseload falls.

According to this measure, the welfare system of old that existed prior to the 1996 welfare reforms would be considered a whopping success: Caseloads soared and the number of employment exits nearly doubled.

By contrast, the post-reform TANF program was a failure because caseloads fell and employment exits declined. This is why, when the 1996 reform was drafted, the use of employment exits was deliberately excluded as a success measure. It is inherently misleading.

The president made the right call when he decided to restore a focus on work in this key welfare program. TANF’s principles of work requirements should be replicated in food stamps as the next step in welfare reform in a continuing effort to promote self-sufficiency among able-bodied adults.

As President Ronald Reagan eloquently put it:

Welfare needs a purpose: to provide for the needy, of course, but more than that, to salvage these, our fellow citizens, to make them self-sustaining and, as quickly as possible, independent of welfare. We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR

7 thoughts on “Trump restores work requirements for welfare gutted by Obama

  1. Obama’s welfare program, in the end, would have the slogan “Work or Starve”, no different from any other Marxist/Communist system. All the drooling idiots currently enjoying the ‘entitlement’ of the welfare system would quickly learn their fate.

    Incidentally, the Work or Starve slogan isn’t a choice.

  2. Obama’s motive was an unworthy one. He wasn’t concerned in the least about helping folks fend for themselves, gaining a sense of self worth and becoming productive members of society. All he cared about was locking in votes. The man was a menace.

  3. Obama took the work requirements away in order to get more dependents on the welfare rolls. Part of his Communist ‘redistribution of wealth’ plan.

  4. It’s about time, there are plenty of able bodied people on the system, why work when you
    can get it for free from the government. NO Self Esteem!!

  5. Nothing new here.. but..
    Feeding the family and myself. When the river stoped producing sufficient fish for us we cobbled together a couple of bikes courtesy yee old scrap yard and a couple hours labor for the right to pick for parts. Then headed up to the lake a fair piece where fish were more plentiful, till time spent fishing was to long to gather sufficient fish or quantify time spent for the growing family. We gathered our efforts and rented our selves to the farmer where we acquired a piece of the farmers land and planted a garden worthy the growing family. We rented ourselves, for our labor and a piece of the farm managery to supplement the missing protein in trade. Then the time required to maintain and harvest, the fruits of our labor in exchange for our rented labor required us to move closer to the farmer makeing better use of our time. Good move.
    Mind you all the while, while working at the local grocer who’s lively hood depended upon my labor to support his livelihood. The income afforded the new place allowing we/us to live closer to the farmer, who we rented ourselves to to suplimemt or family’s existence.
    The garden was so productive we traded our gardens produce with the grocer for various sundries necessary for a growing family and began butchering the farmers herds in trade for a better share of the farms production. My honey saved the income from renting our selves to the grocer, the garden and the farmer and now meat to procure for a piece of America “our own land ” team work/families all while continuing to fish the river, the lake, planting the garden and butchering the animals.
    The total amount of labor often stressed the hours in a day, leaving the families joys surrounding the fruits of our labor, which became plentiful. The time spent together grue a self reliant core creating a reliance upon our family to bear fruit for ourselves and the community around us that grew all our lives, as we labored together for one another.
    There should never be a free lunch till you can not provide for yourself, where we will never let you starve because we are a family of Americans from across to world. Americas is for all of us, all not just for ourselves, but all the able bodied staying strong for the disabled.
    I shudder to think had we allowed the family to take sustance for free and not rented our labor for trade where we could be today. And seeing those who reached for the free hands outs with out a provider exacting a measure of accountability and where they appear to be today. I am sure satisfied with our choice, but wonder why our society doesn’t feels more guilty for allowing the unwilling and the lazy to laugh all the way to our bank without accountability.
    As an example observe the domesticated cat. Who’s the servent and who’s the master. Even the master is a dependent spine to the worker/labor/manager/ “I want to say slave in a good way to my wife and family, we are all slaves/ workers to one another as dependent necessity to a productive society. But, the word is worker and we all need to be taught to appreciate work again. Put/get the kids back to work at all levels of labor and we will grow an appreciative working class again.
    It’s otherwise nearly to late for the forth generation of dependency. Least we learn as a society we can Giveth and we can Taketh away. Especially with the current dependant class mindset this intentional dependency has created. Shame on us for allowing the tyranny of dependency to create an atmosphere for the “progressive party” otherwise accurately describes communist party to survive. Now look at the mess we have allowed this movement to caused.

    • Good comments Mike. Sounds like you have had a hard road but one that builds character. Getting something free is not necessarily free; there is always a price. God bless you and your family.

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