Conservative Media Freak Out Over Improvement To Welfare Reform

In response to requests from Republican-led states, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it will consider allowing states to create more efficient ways to report on the work requirement for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The conservative media have responded by falsely claiming that this is the “end of welfare reform” and that it “guts” the work requirement.

Republican-Led States Request Waivers From TANF's Work Documentation Process

WSJ: 1996 Law Required States To Document Work By TANF Recipients. From The Wall Street Journal:

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. From The Wall Street Journal:

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. From a letter to the federal government from the Utah Department of Workforce Services:

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]

Republican-Led Nevada: State Wants Waivers That Would Increase TANF's Accountability. From a letter to the federal government from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services:

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]

HHS Announces It Will Consider Granting Waivers For States Trying To Document Work More Effectively

HHS Memo: “HHS Will Only Consider Approving Waivers” That Lead To “More Effective Means Of Meeting The Work Goals Of TANF.” In a July 12 memo, HHS announced that it would be changing the process by which states can apply for waivers from certain parts of TANF. The memo states that HHS will grant waivers to states to give them flexibility in creating programs that meet TANF's work requirements. The memo also states that HHS will only approve waivers that “make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF.” [, 7/12/12]

HHS Official: “Waivers That Weaken Or Undercut Welfare Reform Will Not Be Approved.” From a statement by George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for HHS' Administration for Children and Families:

When the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was established as part of welfare reform in the 1990s, it was intended to give states flexibility to design effective programs to help parents move from welfare to work. Today, however, Federal rules dictate mind-numbing details about how to run a welfare-to-work program. Most States and experts agree that these aren't helpful.

Here's one example: under current TANF rules, many states report that their caseworkers are spending more time complying with federal documentation requirements than helping parents find jobs. We need state workers spending less time filling out data reports and more time helping parents find employment.

The new policy we announced will allow states to test new, more effective ways to help parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment. States can apply for waivers of federal requirements that get in their way. These waiver applications will be available for public review.

This new flexibility will strengthen welfare reform rules and the effectiveness of state efforts to connect families with work. Waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved. Waivers that seek to avoid time limits or other federal restrictions on when assistance may be provided will not be approved. [Statement from Sheldon, via ABC News, 7/13/12]

CBPP: Waiver Process Strengthens Welfare Reform. From a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities post on “5 Ways Waivers Will Strengthen Welfare Reform”:

Despite mounting complaints from conservatives, the Obama Administration's announcement yesterday that it will give states waivers to run demonstration projects in their TANF programs will not kill or undermine welfare reform.  Indeed, it will strengthen welfare reform by giving states greater flexibility to test more effective strategies for helping recipients prepare for, find, and retain jobs -- and measure their accomplishments in more meaningful ways than the current system allows.

The conservative complaints are ironic, to say the least.  For one thing, they beg an obvious question:  why would anyone oppose efforts to merely test whether there are better ways to connect people to jobs?  For another, the complaints are coming from some of the same people who usually argue for giving states more power to run programs and who often seek state waivers in other programs. [CBPP, 7/13/12]

Right-Wing Media Respond With False Claims

Fox Nation: “Obama Guts Clinton Welfare Work Requirement.” Fox Nation linked to a post on the Heritage Foundation blog The Foundry:

[Fox Nation, 7/12/12]

Fox's Lou Dobbs: Obama Administration Is “Stripping Out The Work Requirement From Welfare Reform.” Fox Business host Lou Dobbs began a segment on the waivers by saying they “strip out the work requirement for welfare reform.” A graphic read similarly:

[Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 7/13/12]

Wash. Times Claims HHS Memo Marks The “End Of Welfare Reform.” In a July 12 blog post, The Washington Times' Anneke E. Green wrote that the waivers constituted an “attempt to override the work requirements” for TANF. [Water Cooler, The Washington Times, 7/12/12]