Mitt Romney spent Tuesday on a media blitz claiming that President Obama is out to “gut welfare reform.” An ad released by the Romney campaign first pointed to President Clinton as having successfully reformed welfare, before excoriating Obama. However, in a statement, Clinton called Romney’s charge against Obama “disappointing” and “not true”:
Governor Romney released an ad today alleging that the Obama administration had weakened the work requirements of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. That is not true. […]
The recently announced waiver policy was originally requested by the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada to achieve more flexibility in designing programs more likely to work in this challenging environment. The Administration has taken important steps to ensure that the work requirement is retained and that waivers will be granted only if a state can demonstrate that more people will be moved into work under its new approach. The welfare time limits, another important feature of the 1996 act, will not be waived.
The Romney ad is especially disappointing because, as governor of Massachusetts, he requested changes in the welfare reform laws that could have eliminated time limits altogether. We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads.
In reality, the Obama administration is simply giving states the ability to experiment with new work programs, along the lines of a reform that Romney himself requested in 2005.
As the directive from the Department of Health and Human Services states, “HHS is encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” HHS says it will cancel waivers that do not further TANF’s goals.
CBS’s AdWatch said of Romney’s ad, “It’s a leap to assume that governors and legislators will seek to return to ‘plain old welfare’ and that the Obama administration will give them the go-ahead.” The Romney camp, however, doubled down on its claims, saying in a statement that Obama is erasing “sixteen years of progress…with one stroke of a pen.”
And none of this deals with the inescapable fact that TANF failed to reach a significant number of needy families during the Great Recession, calling into serious question whether the current program is the best way to administer aid to those who need it.