Fox's Laura Ingraham dismissed a recent rule change regarding welfare work requirements as an attempt by the Obama administration to buy votes, a charge right-wing media have frequently leveled at Obama after his attempts to improve antipoverty programs. But the rule change was reportedly requested by GOP governors, and a 2005 version of the waivers was supported by several GOP governors, including Mitt Romney.
Ingraham: TANF Waiver Rule Change “A Push For Election Turnout” By Obama Administration
Fox's Ingraham: Waiver Rule Change Is “A Push For Election Turnout” By The Obama Administration. On the July 24 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham reacted to reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will issue waivers to states to relax some of the work requirements in Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) by claiming the change was “a push for election turnout” by giving “more free stuff to people.” From Fox & Friends:
INGRAHAM: This is so tailor made for the Romney campaign, right? But let me tell you, what I think is going on in part is what we saw with the numbers coming out of Virginia over the last couple of weeks. Romney is doing better in Virginia. It's a critical state for this election and the Washington Examiner yesterday wrote a piece about how the Obama campaign has to up the turnout in Virginia among certain demographic groups, including African-Americans. I think a lot of this ends up being a push for election turnout. Same thing. Give more free stuff to people and hope that they come to the polls. I think you're seeing it with immigration, you're seeing it with this. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/24/12]
But The Rule Change Was Reportedly Requested By GOP Governors
WSJ: 1996 Law Required States To Document Work By TANF Recipients. The Wall Street Journal reported that "[u]nder 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":
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. [The Wall Street Journal, 7/13/12]
WSJ: Utah And Nevada -- Both Led By Republican Governors -- Requested Waivers From Documentation Requirements. The Wall Street Journal further reported that Utah and Nevada, both of which have Republican governors, asked for waivers from documentation requirements:
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. [The Wall Street Journal, 7/13/12]
Republican-Led Utah: States Need The Flexibility To Report Employment Outcomes, Rather Than Process. In a letter to the federal government, the Utah Department of Workforce Services wrote that it is necessary for states to have the flexibility to report employment outcomes, rather than the process:
The activity of federal reporting highlights the misalignment of priorities among the various programs that purport to have the same purpose of employment and re-employment. Collecting data is one of the most administratively expensive activities the recipients of the federal grants must perform. Congress is often prescriptive in what is important and what it wishes to know about those using the funding. Federal regulation often makes the situation worse based on how the regulation expects the federal reporting to function. For example, TANF financial assistance measures and reports process, not outcomes. The lack of focus on outcomes makes the program less about the need to help parents find and retain work and more about the need to assure that parents are active in prescribed activities. Any of the data reported that is an actual positive outcome for a customer may matter to the State but it does not relate to how the data is reported and framed to Congress.
Allow waivers where the measurement of employment is the primary reportable data to the federal government and allow Utah to expand the definitions of priority activities from the current narrow definitions of countable hours and provide relief from the prescriptive verification processes. The expectation to participate fully in specific activities leading to employment is not the issue. Full engagement is a powerful process that can lead to work. It is the narrow definitions of what counts and the burdensome documentation and verification processes that are not helpful. [Utah Department of Workforce Services, 7/24/11, via The Huffington Post, emphasis original]
Republican-Led Nevada: State Wants Waivers That Would Increase TANF's Accountability. In a letter to the federal government, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services wrote that the state wanted waivers that would increase TANF's accountabilitity:
Nevada is very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers that have the potential to encourage more cooperative relationships among the state agencies engaged in economic stimulus through job creation, employment skill attainment and gainful employment activities. Nevada is also interested in exploring performance measures that ensure program accountability and also increase the probability of families becoming self-sufficient by providing meaningful data as to the services or combination of services with the best outcomes. [Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, 8/2/11, via The Huffington Post]
Broader TANF Waivers Were Endorsed By Several GOP Governors In 2005
Wash. Post: “A Group Of 29 Republican Governors” Argued “For State Welfare Waivers More Expansive” Than The Ones From HHS. In a July 19 Washington Post Wonkblog post, Dylan Matthews noted that, in 2005, 29 GOP governors requested TANF waivers “more expansive than those being issued by the Obama administration.” From The Washington Post:
In the letter's most pointed passage, Sebelius notes that in 2005, a group of 29 Republican governors sent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist a letter arguing for state welfare waivers more expansive than those being issued by the Obama administration. The letter (pdf) is signed many party notables, such as Mitch Daniels, Rick Perry, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and, of course, Mitt Romney, who just the other day declared that the new waivers will “fundamentally undermine” welfare reform.
He's not the only one to have reversed course. Camp and Hatch both supported welfare waivers in the past, Camp voting in committee for a bill expanding welfare waivers in 2005 and Hatch voting for a resolution expressing support for waivers in 1996. Tommy Thompson, now a Senate candidate in Wisconsin, wrote an op-ed condemning the Obama administration's waivers despite having proposed state welfare waivers while serving as George W. Bush's HHS secretary in 2003.
It makes sense for Republicans to support waivers. It was governors in the 1980s -- and in particular (pdf) Thompson, who served for 14 years as governor of Wisconsin -- whose initial experiments with waiver-based welfare reforms paved the way to the federal reform law in 1996. As Ezra could tell you, this is hardly the first time a previously widely held Republican policy position has become anathema almost overnight, but it's a stark change nonetheless. [The Washington Post, 7/19/12]
GOP Governors Such As Romney, Pawlenty, And Huckabee Requested Waivers To Move “Recipients From Welfare To Work.” In a May 19, 2005, letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the Republican Governor's Association highlighted "[i]ncreased waiver authority" as a way “of moving recipients from welfare to work.” The letter was signed by several GOP governors, including Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney, who have recently attacked the rule change. From the 2005 letter:
State Flexibility - The Senate bill provides states with the flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve 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. [Republican Governors Association, 5/19/05, via The Washington Post, emphasis original]
Right-Wing Media Frequently Dismiss Anti-Poverty Efforts As Attempts To Buy Votes
Fox's Varney Suggests Obama Is “Buying Votes” With Food Stamp Outreach Program. During the March 15 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney suggested that the Obama administration was “buying votes” with food stamp outreach programs, including radio advertisements. From Fox & Friends:
VARNEY: [Point] number one: Is this administration's outreach on food stamps actually buying votes?
VARNEY: [T]he government goes out and says, “Hey, you're entitled to this. You should have it. It'll make you feel good. And by the way, when we give you this, maybe you'll vote for us because we're giving you something.”
DOOCY: So you see it as a re-election thing.
VARNEY: I do. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/15/12, via Media Matters]
Limbaugh: The Safety Net Is “A Democrat Vote-Buying Technique.” On the February 2 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed the safety net has “created dependency” and is a “Democrat vote-buying technique.” From the program:
LIMBAUGH: The safety net is precisely what's creating dependency and destroying people's lives. It's robbing them of their humanity. The safety net needs to be totally reevaluated. It's a Democrat vote-buying technique, Governor! No, it doesn't need to be fixed; it needs to be totally redone with an entirely different purpose behind it. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/2/12 via Media Matters]
Varney: EITC Outreach Program “Is Buying Votes.” On the April 10 edition of Fox & Friends, Varney attacked a program designed to increase awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), claiming: “This is buying votes. This is the government saying you are entitled to this. You don't earn very much money. You are entitled to other people's money in the form of a tax refund. That is buying votes.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/10/12, via Media Matters]