The Obama administration’s offer to waive work requirements for recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) is being opposed by leading congressional Republicans, who have introduced legislation to overturn the action. While state governments generally welcome added flexibility in administering federal programs, there is a risk the new federal policy will be used in some states to undermine the work-first principle at the heart of the successful 1996 welfare reform.
It’s worth noting in this context that New York State provides poor people with an exceptionally strong incentive to work. For example, a single head of household with two children on welfare in New York City is eligible for TANF and Food Stamp benefits adding up to $14,952 a year. By working full time for $8.50 an hour, the average wage for newly employed former welfare recipients, that same person can boost his or her income to more than $35,000 a year, as this chart shows.
New York’s welfare rolls have dropped by roughly two thirds in the past 15 years because the federal and state TANF partnership has made work pay.