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Myth v. Fact: Obama Administration Claims on Welfare Work Waivers Ring False

September 13, 2012

Myth: HHS has not “gutted” welfare reform.
Work requirements were at the core of welfare reform, and they have been the centerpiece of the law for 16 years. HHS now claims that work requirements are no longer mandatory, and that States can apply to HHS to opt out of the requirements. By claiming these requirements can be waived, HHS is claiming they can rewrite the central feature of the law—gutting welfare reform.

Myth: In 2005 then Governor Romney and other Republican governors supported waivers of work requirements.
In their 2005 letter, the governors requested administrative flexibility to better coordinate a number of social services programs, including TANF.  They did not request waivers from TANF work requirements.  In fact, the Senate legislation they wrote in support of strengthened work requirements, raising the share of adults on welfare expected to work from 50 percent to 70 percent.

Myth: HHS will only approve waivers resulting in more work, and States must increase by 20 percent the number of people leaving welfare for work.
HHS has provided little detail on what waivers they might approve, and didn’t even mention this “20 percent more people leaving welfare for work” idea in the initial guidance. It only appeared after Congress objected to their waiving work requirements. While public statements by Obama Administration officials indicate that they will only approve waivers resulting in more work, no binding policy—or real details—exists to support these claims.  The Washington Post’s fact checkers confirm this.

Myth: The authority to waive welfare work requirements already exists, and HHS is only providing “guidance” to States about how they can apply for it.
Even the Obama campaign disagrees with HHS on this, calling the HHS “guidance” a “new policy” creating “new options” for States to avoid the work requirements.  And both the nonpartisan GAO and CRS dismissed the HHS argument that this is only “guidance,” telling Congress that the HHS policy constitutes a rule that is subject to review and disapproval through the Congressional Review Act.