In the following, Senator Mark Obenshain provides an example of how President Obama is arbitrarily changing our laws.
The End of Welfare Reform As We Know It?
It was one of the most successful government reform measures in recent memory-so, perhaps unsurprisingly, President Obama is out to gut it.
I’m speaking of the welfare reform measures passed in 1996 which put countless Americans back to work, making welfare about seeing people through a rough patch and getting them back on track, not providing them with a free ticket for life. But now, the cornerstone of reform is under attack.
I know something about welfare reform. Before there was a federal welfare reform bill, there was the groundbreaking Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW), and I served on the commission that outlined the proposal.
By the early ’90s, the failure of the welfare system was plain for all to see-clear enough that in 1992, Bill Clinton famously vowed to “end welfare as we have come to know it.” Around the same time, several states were signaling their intention to address the major flaws in their welfare programs, and in 1993, George Allen campaigned on the belief that “our obligation as a society is to provide a hand up to those in need, rather than a handout.”
In time it became apparent that Clinton had only minor cosmetic changes in mind, and it took intense pressure from a new Republican House majority (beating back an initial veto) to pass really meaningful welfare reform. By then, Virginia had already passed Governor Allen’s VIEW legislation, which came to serve as a partial template for federal law.
Welfare reform did a lot of things, but this was foremost: it required recipients to search for jobs, make themselves more employable, and actually go to work when the opportunity arose. Work participation rates rose sharply. Even the name of the new program — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families –signaled a new direction. Until now.
Last Friday, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a guidance document telling states that the Secretary was prepared to waive the all-important work participation requirement, accepting “alternative” standards. In other words, the President is prepared to waive the entire underpinning of welfare reform — to waive the vital link between benefits and a concerted effort to get off welfare and back to work. I call that running up the white flag, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
What sort of alternative benchmarks might we see? That’s anyone’s guess, but you would be shocked to see some of the things that states have tried to call “work participation” in the past. Things like exercise, journaling, attending parent-teacher meetings, motivational reading, and helping friends run errands.
Fortunately, Virginia’s list of work activities is more responsible, but under the new waivers, who knows what some states might get away with? Obama has unilaterally excised the underpinnings of welfare reform, to be replaced by who-knows-what.
It’s a shocking arrogation of power. The only waiver the Administration is authorized to make deals with details of state reporting requirements, but through a chain of convoluted logic, the Obama administration has concluded that they can also waive any requirements that states have to report on.
President Obama is rewriting the law on his own initiative, Congress notwithstanding, and as in the past, the silence from congressional Democrats is deafening. We know where George Allen stands; after all, he brought welfare reform to Virginia, and his plan helped to shape the federal bill that is now being gutted by the President. But where do our U.S. Senators stand? Where does Tim Kaine stand?
President Obama’s unilateral gutting of welfare reform ought to make you angry. Hard-working families struggling to make ends meet shouldn’t have to foot the bill for this unwinding of welfare reform. And those on welfare deserve better, too: they deserve programs that are structured around getting them back on their feet, not leaving them in limbo.
I believe in giving people a hand up — helping people get back on their feet. And so do the American people: a recent poll shows 83% support for work requirements. Unfortunately, Obama has a different vision, one in which welfare becomes an end rather than a means. Welfare is supposed to be temporary; the goal is self-sufficiency. Are we really helping by relieving people of the obligation to work? Do we really want to ratchet down the emphasis on helping people to get off welfare and earn a living?
In the early ’90s, Virginia led the way on welfare reform. If the Obama administration continues down this path, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Virginians go to the polls with a message for Obama: “Welfare reform? We really meant it.”
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain Virginia State Senator
It is a trite expression, but it is nonetheless true.
Our nation stands at a crossroads.
If we each continue to put our own self-interest above those of our family, friends and neighbors, we will continue to elect likeminded leaders. If we do not vote honorably, we will elect people who do not honor their oath of office, and such people will make us their serfs.