The Republican bill that actually would gut welfare reform

September 13, 2012

Bill Clinton signs welfare reform into law. (The Washington Post)

The Congressional Research Service recently found that Obama's proposed welfare waivers are, in all likelihood, completely legal. But it also concluded that politicians in Washington have proposed gutting the welfare work requirement — just not the politicians you'd think.

A new CRS report indicates that a Republican proposal that just passed the House Education and Workforce committee would undermine the work requirement. The bill is H.R. 4297: Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012, and it passed (pdf) the committee on a party-line vote in June, with all Republicans voting for and all Democrats voting against or abstaining. Here's the CRS report on it:

CRS Memo on GOP WIA bill

The bill allows states to consolidate all state-federal aid programs, such as aid for Women, Infants and Children, food stamps and TANF into a single "Workforce Investment Fund." But if they do, all the eligibility requirement for those programs fall by the wayside. "Thus, for example, if TANF funds were consolidated into the WIF," CRS' David Bradley explains, "TANF program requirements (e.g., work requirements) may no longer apply to that portion of funding because the TANF funding would not exist (i.e., it would be part of the WIF and thus subject to WIF program requirements)." Translation: State governors would be able to eliminate the welfare work requirement entirely by creating a Workforce Investment Fund. That's a much bigger change than anything the Obama administration has proposed on welfare.

This isn't unprecedented. The Bush administration pushed for a welfare "superwaiver" that would allow states to waive just about every requirement, including the work requirement. "The superwaiver proposal passed the House three times: in 2002, 2003, and 2005," CRS' Gene Falk writes (pdf). "The legislation would have had the effect of allowing TANF work participation standards to be waived." All three times the proposal was backed by Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Rob Portman and most other Republicans in the House. (The relevant roll call votes are herehere and here.)

Waiving the work requirement may or may not be a good idea. But despite what the Romney-Ryan campaign's ads say, Paul Ryan is the only person on the national ticket to have supported doing it.

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Dylan Matthews · September 13, 2012