The change, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in July, was advertised as an effort to encourage “innovative strategies” that “improve employment outcomes.” Some governors complain the existing regulations demand too much paperwork. HHS says, “Waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved.”
That’s good to hear, but it may not be sensible to accept bureaucratic assurances at face value. Early in his career, Obama said he was no fan of the 1996 law that imposed strict work mandates on recipients.
Even Bill Clinton, who had promised to “end welfare as we know it,” vetoed two reform measures before signing this one over the objections of liberals. An HHS official who resigned in protest called it “the worst thing Bill Clinton has done.”
So it’s possible that some people in the government have never made their peace with work requirements and would like to weaken them. That’s the suspicion of Douglas Besharov, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, who in 1996 helped persuade Hillary Clinton to support the law.
“If the Obama administration believes in work requirements, why write something so broad?” Besharov asked me. “If I believed in the work requirements, I wouldn’t put in language encouraging states to lift them all.”