A new ad by Mitt Romney attacks President Obama’s directive to let states test new ways to implement welfare reform. But as governor of Massachusetts, Romney himself pushed the federal government for a similar policy.
“On July 12th, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements,” a narrator in the Romney ad says.
In 2005, Romney and 28 other Republican governors wrote a letter to Congress requesting even more flexibility than Obama has offered, for the purpose of “[e]mpowering states to seek new and innovative solutions to help welfare recipients achieve independence.”
“Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work,” read the letter, which was co-signed by prominent GOP governors like Tim Pawlenty, Rick Perry, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee and Jon Huntsman.
Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services moved to achieve a narrower goal administratively by granting states the option to “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families” under the work requirement component of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. As HHS made clear, states must demonstrate that their alternate strategy better serves the goal of moving people from welfare to work or their waiver will be denied or rescinded.
The spot, released Tuesday by the Romney campaign and RNC, declares that Obama has “gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements,” pointing to a July 12 shift in administration policy. It was supplemented with a lengthy campaign memo.
In the ad or memo, Romney does not address whether he still believes the policy shift is appropriate if it comes from Congress, as opposed to administrative fiat. In a statement Tuesday morning, his campaign papered over his prior position.
“Since his time as governor, Mitt Romney has consistently supported strong work requirements for welfare recipients,” said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul.
The ad capitalizes on conservative anger at the policy shift. Republican governors and members of Congress have accused Obama of seeking to destroy the bipartisan 1996 law, enacted by President Clinton, that ended welfare as an entitlement.
In the past, GOP lawmakers have backed bills to give states more flexibility on the work requirement component. Legislation to that effect never passed in Congress. Numerous states, including those with Republican governors, have sought similar relief since 2005.
“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check,” Romney’s ad continues. “Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement because it works.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.