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House Votes to Block Waivers for Welfare Work Standards

The Obama administration would be blocked from granting waivers for work requirements in states that want to experiment with their welfare programs under legislation that the House passed, 246-181.

The legislation, H.R. 890, also would extend that program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, through Dec. 31. It’s scheduled to expire March 27.

Republicans said that any waivers would undermine the program’s employment goals. The administration said waivers would allow states flexibility to design welfare programs to improve job prospects for welfare recipients.

“Without any thought of consulting Congress as is required by law, the administration saw fit to unilaterally waive the work requirements and risk the progress that has been made in the last 16 years,” House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan said, referring to TANF’s creation in 1996.

The bill would prevent the Obama administration from carrying out a July 2012 memorandum that would allow states to seek exemptions from TANF work standards for the first time.

The TANF program provides states with block grants for cash assistance to poor families. It requires states to meet certain work performance standards or risk losing grant funding.

Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said Republicans who want to block state flexibility are being “worse than contradictory.”

“This is an effort in 2013 to validate a fallacious political ad of the year 2012,” Levin said referring to a campaign advertisement by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that called TANF waivers “a plan to gut welfare reform.”

No Applicants

The administration said the policy change was in response to states’ concerns that TANF rules and paperwork requirements were impeding the program’s goals. No states have applied for the waiver, although eight states have expressed interest in them, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Republicans said the the administration had tried to bypass Congress by releasing the policy change in a memorandum, rather than a regulation.

“When you’re trying to change the law, you don’t just send a letter,” Camp said.

In the previous session of Congress, the House passed a related measure largely along party lines that also would have nullified the welfare work exemptions. The Senate never took up that bill.

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