Naked City

Texas 'Works' Welfare Rules

On Aug. 29, state District Judge Darlene Byrne ruled in favor of the Center for Public Policy Priorities and temporarily enjoined the Texas Workforce Commission from enforcing new rules that could have resulted in thousands of low-income Texans losing Medicaid coverage as of Sept. 1. The TWC had issued a new "emergency" rule as a consequence of House Bill 2292, the major health and human services reorganization enacted by the 78th Legislature this spring. The rule, adopted at an Aug. 5 meeting of the TWC, would redefine as "work" all activities listed in the "personal responsibility agreement" signed by recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families -- including immunizing their children, keeping them in school, and taking them to the doctor.

Any violation of the agreement would result in "full family sanctions" -- loss of Medicaid coverage for the parents as well as cash assistance to both parents and children. Under current rules, Medicaid coverage can only be withheld for violating child support or literal "work" requirements. The new rules affect approximately 100,000 TANF recipients, and as many as 25,000 could find their Medicaid benefits ended.

The CPPP charged that the rule adoption had violated the Open Meetings Act because the new rule did not properly constitute an "emergency" and the TWC had not given sufficient public notice. The judge set a hearing on the matter for Oct. 27, but Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz said the state would likely appeal the decision. Witnesses for the TWC said the change had to be made quickly to allow local workforce boards to act on the new law, although they also acknowledged that the new rule was not made available to the public prior to the Aug. 5 meeting.

In addition to the open-government issue, the CPPP "believes that not only is this bad policy, it is in clear violation of federal law and regulation," said a CPPP statement. "The federal Medicaid statute narrowly restricts the use of Medicaid sanctions to only two circumstances: 1) when a client is not cooperating with child support enforcement efforts or 2) for 'refusal to work.' The definition of 'work' in this instance is directly linked to the allowable work activities defined in the TANF statute, which does not include the types of activities TWC is attempting to define as 'work.'" The Center noted that it has found no other state that has adopted "such a draconian policy."

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