Obama Welfare Waiver: Gutting Rules or Just Tweaking?

Obama Welfare Waiver: Gutting Rules or Just Tweaking?

The Obama campaign is calling Mitt Romney a liar for saying that Obama is attempting to gut welfare reform by taking the “work” out of “workfare.” They have even recruited Ron Haskins, who helped write the welfare reform law in 1996 and then went on to work in the George W. Bush administration, to refute the charges. Haskins, who suspiciously enough, now works at the left-wing Brookings institution, lambasted Romney: “On the merits, waivers are justified. The idea that the administration is going to try to overturn welfare reform is ridiculous.”

Only one problem, Mr. Haskins: Romney is absolutely correct. Paul Mirengoff of powerlineblog.com, based on Robert Rector’s analysis at NRO gets it right:

The Obama administration claims authority to overhaul every aspect of the TANF work provisions (section 407), including “definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures and the calculation of participation rates” — in other words, the whole work program. Sebelius’s HHS bureaucracy declared the existing TANF law a blank slate on which it can write any policy it chooses. Because HHS granted itself total authority to change any aspect of the work standards, the agency will not be bound by its state-by-state waiver approach in the future.

Moreover, “flexibility” for the states only works one way:

HHS has made it clear that it will not accept waivers for new conservative policies. The agency’s guidance states that it will not approve policy initiatives that are “likely to reduce access to aid.” Translation: HHS will oppose any policy that reduces welfare caseloads.

Team Obama touts a feature in its new policy under which states receiving a waiver must “commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared [with] the state’s prior performance.” But Rector shows that this provision is virtually meaningless:

Liberals traditionally use sham “exit” statistics to pretend they are shrinking welfare, while in reality they’re increasing it. Given the normal turnover rate in welfare programs, the easiest way to increase the number of individuals moving from “welfare to work” is to increase the number entering welfare in the first place. Bogus statistical ploys like these were the norm before the 1996 reform. TANF curtailed the use of sham measures of success and established meaningful standards: Participating in work activities meant actual work activities, not “bed rest” or “reading” or doing one hour of job search per month; reducing welfare dependence meant reducing caseloads. Now those standards are gone.

As Mirengoff points out with help from a reader, Haskins is supporting Obama becausehe thinks the Obama Administration wants to give states more flexibility for new welfare policies. But the administration has ignored the proper way to do this – by a limited, statutory change with clear limits on the authority – in order to give itself and any future Administration the right to wipe out work requirements in the future. The fact that the Obama administration eschewed working with Congress to find a limited statutory change indicates that they are indeed trying to permanently gut the work requirements.

Romney has it right, and in response, Obama is lying again. There’s the mantra for this campaign.

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