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Recent News, U.S. Politics

Back To A Culture of Dependency

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provides means-based cash assistance to families, but requires that states ensure a certain percentage of recipients are working or looking for a job,
also known as workfare requirements. Robert Rector points out in his recent backgrounder for the Heritage Foundation that, according to Health and Human Services 2011 data, 41.6% of households on TANF are exempt from federal work requirements. 31.6% percent of adults on TANF were idle and only 14.3% of these adult recipients met the federal activity standard, or workfare requirements, according to Rector.

The same HHS Department issued a directive this July indicating that it would grant waivers to states to allegedly “strengthen” work requirements under TANF. Rector calls this an illegal move. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, speaking at a recent Heritage forum, labeled this an “unprecedented power grab” by the Administration.

“In reality, too little work is performed in the TANF program,” Rector argues. “This is not a byproduct of the recession; it has been a constant feature of TANF for many years. It is difficult to understand why anyone would want to weaken these already overly lenient work standards.”

“Obama is not merely gutting welfare reform, he is absolutely turning it on its head…” he argued at a recent forum, continuing, “and the new standard that they are going to put in place for the TANF program is one that says the pre-reform welfare, AFDC, was a wonderful program, TANF is a failure, and that’s the way we’re going to measure things in the future.”

Rector was part of a panel seeking to confront the “fact-checking” which took place following presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign ad, which asserted that the HHS state waivers would make it so that persons not working would simply be sent a welfare check. As the HHS statistics above show, this is currently a reality for many on the welfare rolls, with or without these waivers.

The panelists at the forum argued that the people who currently work at HHS opposed welfare reform in the 90s and said that the Obama Administration intended to go back to the statistical methods of counting work that were used under AFDC, or Aid to Families With Dependent Children. Under such a waiver, the program would be considered a success if the number of people getting off the rolls of welfare saw a 20% increase (it does not compare to how many people are added to the welfare rolls at the same time).

“Now these alternative outcome standards happen to have been around the welfare system for about 30 years,” said Rector at the forum. “They are completely bogus, but now they’re bringing them forward as if this is some kind of new idea. And the most prominent of these is that if you get a waiver, in some cases or maybe in all cases–it’s not clear–you’re going to have to increase the number of people who get a job and get off welfare by 20%.” He continued,

“Wow, that sounds impressive, doesn’t it? It sounds impressive because this is a pure sham that has been used to deceive the American public in the welfare system for years and this was in fact the most prevalent type of statistic used in the old AFDC program to try to convince the American public that you were reducing dependence when in fact you were increasing it.”

Senator Hatch noted that while the Obama Administration has claimed these waivers will “strengthen” state work requirements, nothing is keeping states from strengthening these requirements independently since federal requirements provide a mere baseline for what states must do. “A state does need a waiver to increase what counts as work, such as education and substance abuse treatment,” he said. “A state does need a waiver to count a person doing less than the required hours of work, related activities toward the participation rate.” And, he said, “…a state does need a waiver to meet a performance measure other than a participation rate of 50%.” Therefore, Senator Hatch argued, one can conclude that the Obama’s intention to “strengthen” welfare means to allow activities such as journaling or weight loss management to count as work.

Eight states have inquired after the HHS waivers since July, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released September 19 shows. No waivers have been formally requested as of September 6. The GAO letter was sent to Senator Hatch and House Representative Dave Camp, R-Michigan.

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