Trump Brings Back Work Requirement for Welfare

It’s almost Labor Day, perfect timing to overturn one of President Obama’s most counterproductive policies. Obama essentially rolled back the requirement for welfare recipients to get a job that had proved so successful in moving Americans off the federal dole.

But the hallmark of the landmark welfare reform measure championed 20 years ago by President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has just been revived, according to the Heritage Foundation.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday reversed an Obama administration policy that undermined one of the most successful domestic policy reforms in the last half-century.

In doing so, Trump took strong steps to preserve the original intent of the 1996 welfare reform law: to weaken the cycle of poverty by reducing dependence and promoting self-sufficiency through work and marriage.

The work stipulation was supposed to be bullet proof against attempts to weaken the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by politicians down the road. But Washington bureaucrats always seem to find a way.

To do this, the Obama administration claimed waiver authority that was illegal and antithetical to the purpose. President Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services produced no historical evidence that Congress intended to grant waiver authority for the TANF work requirements.

Even if it had tried to do so, it would have come up empty.

The summary of the welfare reform law prepared by Congress shortly after its enactment was clear: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”

It’s back to the future now with the return of the work expectation that helped free millions from dependence on the government.

Trump’s reversal of this bureaucratic maneuver marks a return to the original letter and intention of the 1996 reform law.

Second, Trump’s decision returns the TANF program to the principles that made it successful in the first place.

The TANF work requirements, which required a portion of able-bodied adults on the program to work or prepare for work, formed the foundation of the reform’s success: Welfare rolls dropped by 50 percent, and poverty rates for children, especially black children, reached record lows.

The reinstatement of workfare has already led to some calls to extend the requirement to other welfare programs. After all, work seems to work.

As President Ronald Reagan eloquently put it:

Welfare needs a purpose: to provide for the needy, of course, but more than that, to salvage these, our fellow citizens, to make them self-sustaining and, as quickly as possible, independent of welfare.

We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.