Fox & Friends criticized changes to the federal welfare program with deceptive talking points that were identical to a Republican senator's press.
The Fox & Friends co-hosts' target was a recent rule change issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Conservative media last week decried the change and claimed it "guts" TANF's work requirement. Today, Fox & Friends went farther and claimed that the change will allow welfare recipients to get "paid to exercise and read -- even get a massage." Here's how co-host Steve Doocy introduced the segment:
DOOCY: Meanwhile, imagine getting paid to exercise and read -- even get a massage. Well, under new welfare reform waivers, you may be able to do just that. Last week, President Obama announced the White House will now issue waivers to federal work requirements laid out in the 1996 Temporary Assistance Program. The new waivers still will allow states to qualify such activities as work.
Co-host Gretchen Carlson later read aloud a list of activities that she claimed would "qualify as work" thanks to the rule change:
Fox & Friends didn't name a source for these claims. However, a quick Google search reveals an identical list on a press release from GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT):
Hatch's press release specifies that these were activities that a few states defined as "federal work activity" in 2005. This is true, although it lacks context -- "bed rest" and "personal care activities," for example, had to be included as part of a welfare recipient's "recovery from a medical problem."
Hatch's press release then claims that even though those work requirements were tightened in 2005, the Obama administration's new rule change "opens the door to allowing states to count 'bed rest' as a work activity."
But in running with criticism identical to that levied by Hatch, Fox & Friends left out critical information.
The HHS rule change creates flexibility in how states fulfill TANF's work requirements. The 1996 welfare reform bill that created TANF required most welfare recipients to be working, actively seeking a job, or receiving job training in order to receive benefits.
As The Wall Street Journal explained, this month's rule change "gave states more leeway to administer welfare programs" by allowing states to apply for waivers from the program's work-reporting requirements. But as HHS outlined in a July 12 memo, waivers will only be issued for state proposals that lead to "more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF." An HHS official wrote in an accompanying letter that "waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved."
The Journal also noted that those who petitioned the government for the change were two Republican governors -- one from Nevada, and the other from Hatch's home state of Utah:
Under the 1996 law, states are required to document the number of hours that welfare recipients spend in paid jobs, voluntary work or other activities directly related to finding employment. States can lose federal funding for their welfare programs if they don't meet targets for recipients' participation in these activities.
States have said that such rules are preventing them from running more-effective welfare programs, and the Obama administration said that two states, Utah and Nevada, had specifically asked for waivers from the requirements. Both states have Republican governors.
On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services sent states a letter saying they could get a federal waiver to those rules if they proposed better ways to help recipients find permanent, well-paid jobs.