Fox Pushes Debunked Myth To Attack Obama On Welfare Work Requirements

Fox News revived the debunked myth that President Obama “gutted” work requirements from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program despite the fact that the claim has repeatedly been shown to be false.

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped a bill introduced by House Republicans last week that seeks to block the administration from granting waivers to states under the TANF program. Doocy claimed the bill would “make work a condition for receiving welfare,” and repeated the debunked myth that those requirements have been “gutted under President Obama.”

But the Obama administration has not removed work requirements from welfare. In July 2012, the administration announced that it would comply with governors' requests -- including Republicans -- to consider proposals to create more efficient ways to report on the work requirement for people receiving TANF benefits. According to Health and Human Services, any program that weakened or undercut welfare reform would not be approved, and waivers would only be granted to proposals that “move at least 20% more people from welfare to work.”

The Center on Budget and Policies Priorities found that these waivers would strengthen welfare reform by “giving states greater flexibility to test more effective strategies for helping recipients prepare for, and retain jobs.” The New York Times reported that the new requirements continued the administration's efforts “to peel back unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and allow states to spend federal money more efficiently.”

But despite overwhelming reporting to the contrary, conservative media have repeatedly pushed the false claim that this plan “guts” welfare reform.

As NPR reported, following 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney's use of the claim in a political ad, “every major fact-checking organization” found the attack to be false. Politifact rated the claim as "pants on fire" and The Washington Post's fact checker gave the claim four Pinocchios (its highest rating). found no basis for the claim, explaining:

A Mitt Romney TV ad claims the Obama administration has adopted 'a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.' The plan does neither of those things.

  • Work requirements are not simply being 'dropped.' States may now change the requirements -- revising, adding or eliminating them -- as part of a federally approved state-specific plan to increase job placement.
  • And it won't 'gut' the 1996 law to ease the requirement. Benefits still won't be paid beyond an allotted time, whether the recipient is working or not.

The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted that unlike Obama, the Bush administration “pushed for a welfare 'superwaiver' that would allow states to waive just about every requirement, including the work requirement,” a proposal which passed in the House three times.