WASHINGTON ‚?? Welfare is causing a ruckus in the presidential campaign. But the program is a shadow of its old self from the 1970s, when Ronald Reagan used the image of ‚??welfare queens‚?Ě to assail government poverty programs promoted by liberals.
Nowadays government cash assistance to the poor is mainly conditioned on work. And the Obama administration waivers excoriated by Mitt Romney as gutting welfare reform are unlikely to reverse that basic policy, as even some architects of work requirements acknowledge.
‚??If Washington were different and ... people could sit down and reason together, it‚??s not impossible to think that Republicans and Democrats would come to an agreement on waivers similar to what the administration is proposing,‚?Ě said Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Center on Children and Families. As a senior House GOP aide in the 1990s, Haskins helped write the original welfare-to-work legislation.
The Obama administration says it does not want to waive work requirements, but instead primarily federal administrative rules, including some that tie up state caseworkers who could be serving clients.
The 1996 welfare reform law replaced a federal entitlement with grants to the states, while putting a time limit on aid and requiring recipients to eventually go to work.
Welfare caseloads declined for years before the recession, and there are only about 2 million families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF for short.
Former GOP aide Haskins said the Obama administration was wrong to roll out its waiver plan without first getting the advice and consent of congressional Republicans. But he added, ‚??There is merit to what the administration is proposing, and I don‚??t see how you can get to the conclusion that the waiver provision undermines welfare reform and it eliminates the work requirement.‚?Ě
Moreover, with or without waivers, there‚??s cap on federal money available to states for welfare ‚?? about $17 billion.
A Romney ad Tuesday that accused Obama of quietly unraveling the work requirements was quickly slammed by the White House as dishonest. Former President Bill Clinton, the Democrat who signed the bipartisan welfare changes into law, came to Obama‚??s defense.
Then Wednesday morning the Republican National Committee put former 1990s House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a conference call with reporters. Gingrich had high praise for the former president while heaping disdain on Obama, whom he dubbed ‚??the anti-Clinton.‚?Ě
The administration says its waiver plan was prompted by interest from the states, including Nevada and Utah, which have Republican governors.
But, Mary-Sarah Kinner, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval‚??s press secretary, said Nevada had not and would not seek a waiver. Ally Isom, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert‚??s deputy chief of staff, acknowledged that Utah sought waivers but not from work requirements.
The administration says work requirements are not on the table.