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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • Preserving the Welfare Work Requirement and Tanf Extension Act of 2013

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2013-03-13

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    JACKSON LEE. I thank the floor leaders for their hard work, but I have another explanation for where we are today.

    My colleague before me indicated that flexibility is important. It means that we, your Representatives, are listening to you. But I'm listening to more voices than just those who are here on this floor. I'm listening to the voices of those who want to get out of poverty, and I'm delighted to be part of a newly established caucus that focuses on eliminating poverty.

    I was here for the first reform bill, and I do believe there's something important about work; but let us understand that when we talk about poverty, we're talking about children, we're talking about parents who are raising children and who may need to be home. We've always made the argument that mothers working at home is work.

    I'm disappointed in this legislation primarily because it takes the flexibility away from Governors to determine how best to get people back to work. But why don't we bring a bill to the floor to raise the minimum wage from $7 to $9? Why do we not listen to people who say, I barely can make it, such as one of my constituents who said, Not only am I at minimum wage, but they require me to pay for my parking. Can I please get a lift? Or maybe we're not aware of title 3 in the housing act that has people in public housing being able to work, which was an amendment that I offered to that particular title to allow those to work on projects that the housing authority has. My housing authority just told me that people are lining up to work. They have people working.

    So this is not about making people work. It's about ignoring and picking on, again, President Obama's administration because they decide to listen to Republican and Democratic Governors to work on behalf of the American people. Let's get it right. Let's talk about getting people out of poverty. Let's raise the minimum wage. Let's talk about the flexibility so that people can work. Because they want to work. I haven't heard anybody that doesn't want to work. But realize if you are getting TANF, you're getting it because of your children, because of some situation that puts you in a place that you hope to get out of.

    I don't think it is the right thing to do to strangle the hands of the administration doing what the American people would like them to do. Let's vote against this legislation.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon to simply express my disappointment in H.R. 890, The Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013, which it actually does not do.

    I had an amendment prepared which would simply make the effective date for this bill of December 2035. This is not a whimsical attempt to delay implementation; but merely an expression of my frustration that Members on the other side have come to disagree with policies which their Caucus, past and present, helped to create and foster.

    In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would consider requests from the states to operate demonstration projects within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to help recipients prepare for, find and maintain employment.

    The effort was partially a response to requests from governors throughout the United States--including many Republican governors-- asking for just such flexibility to operate TANF. The Secretary of HHS has stated that any governor wanting such a waiver must commit that their proposal will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work.

    Rather than embrace the Administration's efforts to provide states flexibility, however, Republicans in Congress have waged a disingenuous campaign against the waiver proposal, drawing rebukes from fact- checkers.

    On Feb. 28, House Republicans introduced H.R. 890 to prohibit the Administration from granting such flexibility to states. The bill was unanimously opposed by my Democratic colleagues during a Committee markup held on March 6, 2013.

    This year's action comes after Republicans took nearly identical action last fall. After passing it out of the Ways and Means Committee against unanimous opposition from Committee Democrats, House Republicans passed a resolution disapproving of the Administration's flexibility plan on Sept. 20, 2012.

    Let's look at some facts: Same Waiver Authority Used by President Clinton--On July 12, 2012, HHS issued guidance that it was exercising the agency's authority under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act to entertain requests from States to conduct demonstration projects under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. A legal analysis from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found that HHS' current waiver initiative is ``consistent'' with the prior practice under the Clinton Administration, which permitted dozens of welfare waivers prior to the enactment of the 1996 welfare law.

    Projects Must Focus on Increasing Work--The HHS notice clearly and repeatedly states that all demonstration projects must be ``focused on improving employment outcomes.'' Such outcomes must be demonstrated by a rigorous evaluation, and states must meet targets for accelerating job placements for welfare recipients.

    Cutting Red Tape and Increasing Performance--Governor Herbert of Utah, a Republican, informed HHS that his state would like to be evaluated on the basis of the state's success in placing welfare recipients into employment, rather than on their participation in certain activities, and that this approach ``would require some flexibility at the state level and the granting of a waiver.'' Providing States with Flexibility, While Holding them Accountable-- HHS Secretary Sebelius has stated, ``the Department is providing a very limited waiver opportunity for states that develop a plan to measurably increase the number of beneficiaries who find and hold down a job.

    Specifically, Governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared to the state's past performance.'' No Effect on Funding Levels or Time Limits--Nothing in the waiver authority applies to the current five-year federal time limit on TANF assistance. Additionally, demonstration projects will in no way affect the fixed block [[Page H1380]] grant amounts now provided to states under the TANF program.

    Republicans Were For Welfare Waivers Before They Were Against Them-- In 2002, 2003, and 2005 Republicans passed legislation on the House floor that included a provision allowing the waiver of TANF work requirements. While these waiver proposals were broader and affected many more programs than the policy now proposed by HHS, the Congressional Research Service confirms that all of these bills ``would have had the effect of allowing TANF work participation standards to be waived'' Chairman Camp, along with Speaker Boehner and Representative Ryan, voted for all three of these bills.

    Claims that Waivers Remove Work Requirements Are Clearly False-- President Clinton, who signed the 1996 welfare reform law, said ``When some Republican governors asked if they could have waivers to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration listened because we all know it's hard for even people with good work histories to get jobs today. So moving folks from welfare to work is a real challenge. And the administration agreed to give waivers to those governors and others only if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20 percent, and they could keep the waivers only if they did increase employment. Now, did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less.'' Ron Haskins, the lead Republican Congressional staffer in charge of drafting the 1996 welfare reform law, has said ``there is merit to what the Administration is proposing,'' and ``I don't see how you can get to the conclusion that the waiver provision undermines welfare reform.'' Politifact declared that Governor Romney's claim that the waiver proposal would eliminate work requirements for welfare recipients was ``pants on fire'' false. The fact checker said the contrary was true, stating: ``by grating waivers to states, the Obama administration is seeking to make welfare-to-work efforts more successful, not end them.'' FactCheck.org says Romney's claims on the issue ``distorts the facts'' and is ``simply not true.'' It reiterates that work requirements are not being dropped under the waiver proposal, and that ``benefits still won't be paid beyond an allotted time.'' Mr. CAMP. I yield 2 minutes to the distinguished gentleman from Indiana (Mr. Stutzman).

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