Mitt Romney’s campaign launched a full-on attack on Tuesday accusing President Obama of gutting welfare reform. In a new ad, policy memo, andpress release, Romney claims that the administration’s decision to offer waivers to states that develop innovative ways to meet the law’s work requirements is actually an attempt to “remove work participation rate requirements all together.”
“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to workand wouldn’t have to train for a job,” the ad’s narrator says. “They just send you your welfare check.”
The ad is blatantly false — the administration’s plan specifically maintains the work requirement, but allows states to experiment with other methods of transitioning recipients from welfare to work. This is a policy that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says will make Temporary Assistance for Needy Families a more effective program.
But the ad is also disingenuous, as it fails to mention that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney explicitly supported the same waiver program he is now criticizing. Romney was one of 29 Republican governors to sign a 2005 letter from the Republican Governor’s Association to congressional leadership touting the benefits a waiver program would bring their states:
The Senate bill provides states with with the flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve their low-income populations. Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work.
As ThinkProgress has noted, Republican governors in both Utah and Nevada still support the waiver program. Both, incidentally, have endorsed Romney. And while Romney touts TANF’s success in a release accompanying the ad — welfare “reduced the number of people receiving monthly cash benefits from 12.2 million to 4.2 million,” it says — the program’s “success” hasn’t been because its recipients are finding jobs. In fact, TANF has failed to reach the people who need it most, especially compared to the programs that came before it.
As the directive from the Department of Health and Human Services states, the waiver program is aimed at helping more recipients transition to work. “HHS is encouraging states to considernew, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment,” the directive says. “The Secretary is only interested in approving waivers if the state can explain in a compelling fashion why the proposed approach may be a more efficient or effective means to promote employment entry, retention, advancement, or access to jobs that offer opportunities for earnings and advancement that will allow participants to avoid dependence on government benefits.”
And states will still be subject to federal evaluation and basic work requirements that “focus on measurable outcomes” and furthering TANF’s purpose. Failing to do so, HHS states, could result in “termination of the waiver project.”
The proposal Romney supported may have provided for even broader welfare waivers than HHS is currently offering. While the health department today is willing to let states tinker with things like the definition of work activities and the calculation of participation rates, the 2005 bill would have waived “any requirement applicable to the program” — not just work requirements, but maybe even time limits for cash assistance, too.