“A partisan disgrace,” declared Speaker John Boehner.
“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Governor Mitt Romney charged.
The source of all of this consternation?
A memo from Health and Human Services (HHS) announcing that it will “allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.… The Secretary is interested in using her authority to approve waiver demonstrations to challenge states to engage in a new round of innovation that seeks to find more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment.”
In short, let states explore new ways to get better results from their efforts to employ low-income people in good jobs.
Sound familiar? Giving states more flexibility to run their Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs? The notion that local folks might have some of the best ideas on how to help people in their jurisdictions?
It’s straight out of the Republican playbook. Only this time around the proposal is from a Democratic Administration, so suddenly it’s not kosher.
The fact is that in 2005 Governor Romney and twenty-eight other Republican governors wrote a letter requesting more “flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations,” including “increased waiver authority.” Indeed the New York Times reports that two of the first five states to express interest in the new waiver policy—Utah and Nevada—have Republican Governors.
“It’s really unfortunate that politics have totally overtaken this in Washington,” Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), told me. “This is an area where there is actually not that much disagreement that TANF programs should be focused on the best ways to help people prepare for, find and keep jobs.”
I asked Schott to walk me through exactly what these waivers would do, because deciphering this stuff is kind of like settling down to a good novel written in legalese.