House passes legislation to block TANF Waivers.

March 14, 2013

On March 13, the House of Representatives passed the Preserving Work Requirements for Welfare Programs Act of 2013 (H.R. 890), which would block the Administration from exercising its waiver authority with regard to certain requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. H.R. 890 would also extend the TANF block grant through December 31, 2013. The measure passed 246-181, with members voting primarily on party lines. 

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sebelius announced in July 2012 that HHS would exercise its waiver authority to provide states the opportunity to develop “alternative and innovative strategies” under the TANF program to help “parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” To obtain a waiver, states must develop and submit a plan for a demonstration project that promotes employment entry, retention, advancement and access to jobs.  Though a state that obtains waiver authority will be exempted from existing work participation standards, it will still be required to meet the goals and intent of welfare reform.  HHS has stipulated that each waiver request approved must include an evaluation plan as well as interim performance measures that the state must track for the duration of the project.  If a state fails to meet its performance targets, it must develop an improvement plan, and may face termination of the project.    

The legislation passed by the House would prevent HHS from taking any action to give effect to the memorandum HHS released announcing the availability of waivers. It further prevents the Secretary from taking any action on pilot or demonstration projects that would waive the TANF work requirements, and rescinds any existing waivers with a similar purpose. 

Using waivers to expand states' ability to experiment and improve their TANF programs is not a new policy proposal.  During the 2005 TANF reauthorization debate, 29 Republican governors wrote  to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, urging Congress to consider increasing waiver authority for the states. More recently, the governors of Utah and Nevada submitted extensive comments on TANF to Secretary Sebelius, promoting waiver authority as a tool to increase employment in their states.  Governors from California, Connecticut and Minnesota have also made inquiries regarding potential waivers.

HHS has been clear that this waiver initiative is in no way meant to weaken or unwind the work requirements established in the 1996 welfare reform law. The notice announcing waiver authority states, “HHS will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF." Further, in a July 18, 2012 letter to House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp , Secretary Sebelius affirmed that the goal of the waiver initiative is to "accelerate job placement rates for those on welfare," and pledged to reject any plan that undercuts the work requirements established in welfare reform.

Last September, the House passed similar legislation – a resolution of disapproval of the waivers – which was not taken up by the Senate. NSC wrote to House Ways & Means and Education & the Workforce committee chairmen Dave Camp (R-MI) and John Kline (R-MN) urging them to support HHS efforts to grant more flexibility to states to pursue innovative strategies to reduce reliance on government assistance. 

We do not expect the Senate will take up the House-passed bill.

TANF has been due for reauthorization since 2010. Members of Congress should work together to develop bipartisan reauthorization legislation. In the absence of such movement on TANF, National Skills Coalition strongly supports the added flexibility these waivers would provide.