But with the stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama has eliminated Clinton's signature achievement and set policy back by decades.
“The Department and Health and Human Services announced the agency will issue waivers for the federal work requirement of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program — considered a central facet of welfare reform in 1996 — Thursday,” the Daily Caller reported last week. “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.”
This isn't really about “outcomes” — the outcomes were fine. Welfare reform was a widely recognized success. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institute recognized this.
“More than 40 studies conducted by states since 1996 show that about 60 percent of the adults leaving welfare are employed at any given moment and that, over a period of several months, about 80 percent hold at least one job,” it reported in 2006. “Between 1994 and 2000, child poverty fell every year and reached levels not seen since 1978. In addition, by 2000, the poverty rate of black children was the lowest it had ever been.”
No, the administration's move is not about “outcomes.” It's about expectations. The central expectation of the welfare reform law was that able-bodied individuals would eventually pull their own weight.
But already, that requirement was slipping.
“The 1996 welfare reform bill, otherwise known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), ended welfare as an entitlement and empowered states with the authority to create unique and robust welfare to work programs,” explains Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in a statement. “A central feature of devolution of federal authority back to the states was a vigorous work requirement for states, including a specific set of activities that qualified as 'work.' Over the years, as states used the reduction in the welfare caseload to mitigate compliance with the 1996 TANF work requirement, the focus on vital welfare to work initiatives diminished.”
In response, Congress tightened the law that year to ensure the work requirement would continue to mean something.
“Through executive fiat and by bypassing Congress, the Obama administration is undermining the important work reforms Congress enacted 7 years ago,” Hatch contends.
Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs the Republican Study Committee (the conservative policy arm of the party), agrees.
“President Obama just tore up a basic foundation of the welfare contract,” Jordan said. “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.”
Once again, this is an example of the president refusing to enforce the laws of the land.
“The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama Administration clearly guts the law,” observes the Heritage Foundation's welfare policy guy, Robert Rector. “The Administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices — a pattern that has become all too common in this Administration.”
Like the other instances, real people will be negatively affected by his decision. This time, many of the victims will be children, who will find themselves locked into a cycle of poverty.