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October 2012 - Volume 18, Number 4


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President Weakens Welfare Reform

by Mattie Duppler, Director of Budget and Regulatory Policy
Americans for Tax Reform


Americans for Tax Reform recently – September 19th – urged the U.S. Congress to support H.J. Resolution 118 and S.J. Resolution 50, resolutions that would stop efforts by the Obama Administration to weaken the work requirements in the federal welfare program.


Importantly, the President does not have the authority to change critical elements of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has attested the administration must have congressional approval to roll back work requirements. This election year power-grab by the President could set a perilous precedent if it is allowed to proceed unchecked.


The welfare reform of the 1990s earned bipartisan support and successfully lowered welfare rolls, getting people off government assistance and back to work. Stripping the TANF program of its work requirements represents a huge step backwards in these major efforts to transform the federal welfare state.


Before reform in 1996, states were awarded more federal money for increasing caseloads. The promise of more federal cash clearly incentivized states to keep people on welfare. Replacing these metrics with ones that encouraged states to move people off of their welfare rolls was a critical part of the cost-savings and increased success of the program; welfare rolls were reduced by nearly two-thirds after the reforms were implemented.


As a result, spending decreased dramatically. The decade after reform was implemented saw welfare spending fall by a third. In contrast, welfare spending as a whole has exploded in the post-“stimulus” Obama-Pelosi-Reid world; taxpayers are now on the hook for over $700 billion a year to pay for nearly 80 federal assistance programs, according to the Heritage Foundation.


The Obama Administration’s attempt to waive work requirements for the TANF program will grow the welfare state further. By waiving work requirements, the administration would turn on its head the incentives instituted in the 1996 reform, and again begin encouraging states to increase their welfare caseloads.


We urged our Representatives in both chambers to support the resolution to disapprove of the Obama Administration’s dismantling of the welfare reform law of 1996. Support for this resolution shows that lawmakers know the solutions for the economy should champion American workers, not discourage them.


Unfortunately, in their rush to return to campaigning, and not deal with the pressing issues facing America, but to instead focus on their own re-election, neither House of Congress addressed this issue before adjourning. There remains much work to be done to get the U.S. government moving in the right direction.


Reprinted with permission of the author and Americans for Tax Reform. Originally written as a letter to Congress, September 2012, <>.


FACTS & OPINIONS is one of our quarterly membership newsletters, arriving in January, April, July, and October. It consists of short articles of public interest with an emphasis on current issues.


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