The GAO analysis, requested by Hatch and Camp, found that the Obama Administration’s recent decision to unilaterally grant itself the authority to waive federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) work requirements - a critical element of the welfare reform enacted in 1996 - qualify as a rule that must be submitted to Congress and that is subject to review – and potential disapproval – under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
“Despite the Obama Administration’s attempts to unilaterally undo welfare work requirements, this analysis is unequivocal that any changes must be submitted to Congress,” said Hatch. “Circumventing Congress, as this White House has done, is a flagrant abuse of our system of checks and balances and an insult to American taxpayers. Work requirements were a critical part of the landmark 1996 Welfare Reform law and should not be scrapped by the Obama Administration."
"President Obama has a long history of opposing tough work requirements in welfare,” said Camp. “Despite his latest attempt at an end-run around Congress, this GAO report clearly states that the Administration must submit this rule to Congress for review before it can take effect. Work requirements were the centerpiece of welfare reform, and we cannot allow that progress to be undone."
On July 12, 2012, HHS issued "guidance" to states about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that could undermine the critical work focus of welfare reform. The HHS guidance attempts to explain how states can now seek "waivers" of work requirements for welfare recipients for the first time since the TANF program was created in the 1996 welfare reform law. This HHS guidance is not in response to any change in TANF law. Nor does it follow up on any proposal from the Obama Administration that seeks to make policy changes to TANF through the regular legislative process. The TANF program was extended under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 through FY 2010. The Obama Administration has not proposed a reauthorization of the TANF program and the program has been extended on a stop-gap basis for several years. Instead, the guidance issued by the Obama Administration simply declares – despite specific statutory provisions to the contrary – that states may waive work requirements at the heart of the nation's successful welfare reform program.
Hatch and Camp requested GAO examine whether the Obama Administration’s action qualified as a regulation under the Congressional Review Act. They also asked GAO to review whether any prior HHS Secretary asserted the authority to waive work requirements, or whether any States have applied for such waivers of work or other welfare program requirements in the past.
The TANF program is currently authorized through September 2012, requiring reauthorization by then for Federal TANF block grant payments to states – which states in turn use to support benefits for low-income families – to continue.