Last night, in his nationally televised speech, former President Bill Clinton said the charge that President Obama has gutted welfare reform was “a real doozy.”

Clinton, who vetoed welfare reform twice before signing the welfare reform law in 1996, echoed the Obama Administration and media “fact checkers,” who have sworn that Obama’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS) is actually trying to strengthen the work requirements of the law by doing away with them.

The fact is that the Administration has gutted welfare reform, and Heritage has detailed reports on exactly how—and what the consequences will be. Heritage expert Robert Rector, who helped write the 1996 law, answered Clinton this morning in no uncertain terms:

The Obama Administration will put in mothballs the formal purpose of welfare reform—to reduce the number of people dependent on government benefits. The Administration will abandon the legislative performance goal that encourages states to reduce welfare caseloads. It will weaken the “work participation” standards that require some 30 percent of able-bodied Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients to engage in work activities for 20 to 30 hours per week.

This week, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) also gave notice to the Administration that this type of law change must go through Congress.

After Heritage’s Rector and Kiki Bradley broke the story July 12 that HHS was gutting the work requirements by allowing states to obtain waivers, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) asked the GAO to review the Administration’s actions. Heritage legal experts Todd Gaziano, Robert Alt, and Andrew Grossman have already detailed why the Administration’s actions are illegal—HHS has no authority to grant the type of waivers it is creating.

The GAO told the lawmakers on Tuesday that the law changes should have been submitted to Congress.

Last night, Clinton defended Obama’s HHS, saying that it would waive the work requirements for states “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—did I make myself clear? The requirement was for more work, not less.”

It may sound convincing, but Rector explains why this is a meaningless measure:

In the typical state, 1.5 percent of the TANF caseload leaves welfare and obtains work each month. Thus, any state can be fully exempted from the TANF work requirements if it raises the number of exits to 1.8 percent. This is a miniscule change. What will the other 98.2 percent of the caseload be doing? No one knows for sure. But one thing we do know for certain: They will be exempt from the federal “work participation” requirements established in the welfare reform law.

The 1996 reforms were an outstanding success. Poverty, especially among black Americans, dropped substantially. Employment of the most disadvantaged single mothers increased dramatically. These are not reforms that should be gutted. These are reforms that should be a signature accomplishment of the Clinton presidency. Unfortunately, he is repudiating his own accomplishment to cover for the Obama Administration.


Did Republican governors try to do the same thing the Obama Administration has done? Read the answer here.

Ending Work for Welfare: An Overview by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield

Welfare Work Requirements: Vague Replacement of Work for Welfare by Robert Rector

Ending Work for Welfare: Bogus Measures of Success by Robert Rector

Media “Fact Checkers” Promote Obama’s Gutting of Welfare Reform by Amy Payne

Quick Hits:

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  • Meanwhile, in China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was stood up by that country’s vice president yesterday.
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