Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
Pants on Fire!
Santorum
Says President Obama has waived "the work requirement for welfare."

Rick Santorum on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 in a convention speech

Rick Santorum repeats Romney claim that Obama is ending work requirement in welfare

A Romney ad about welfare reform earned a Pants on Fire.

When Congress passed landmark welfare reform legislation in 1996, Rick Santorum, then a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, voted for the bill.

Now Santorum is lending his voice to Mitt Romney’s campaign message that President Barack Obama has gutted that reform and done away with rules from the 1996 law that require welfare recipients to eventually get a job.

"This summer he showed us once again he believes in government handouts and dependency by waiving the work requirement for welfare," Santorum said Tuesday in a speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. "I helped write the welfare reform bill; we made the law crystal clear -- no president can waive the work requirement. But as with his refusal to enforce our immigration laws, President Obama rules like he is above the law."

PolitiFact checked a Romney campaign ad's claim that Obama ended welfare work requirements earlier this month, rating it Pants On Fire. In reality, the Obama administration has said it will consider proposals from states that are aimed at finding better ways of getting welfare recipients into jobs. FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker have also said the claim is false.

But the claim lives on. The Romney campaign has released two more ads repeating the line that work requirements were "gutted" line and it's become a regular talking point for Romney campaign surrogates.

"Our most effective ad is our welfare ad," strategist Ashley O'Connor said at an RNC forum on Tuesday. "It's new information."

"We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," added Romney pollster Neil Newhouse.

Here, we’ll recap what Obama actually did, review the memo the Romney campaign cited to back up its claim and show why the claim is ridiculously false.

The HHS memo
   
Since 1996, welfare has been administered through block grants to states. The grant program, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, limits how long families can get aid and requires recipients to eventually go to work. It also includes stringent reporting requirements for states to show they are successfully moving people into the workforce.
   
A memo from George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the department wanted to give states more flexibility in meeting those requirements. The memo notifies states "of the Secretary’s willingness to exercise her waiver authority ... to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families."
   
What does that mean?
   
"If you can do a better job connecting people to work, we would consider waiving certain parts of the performance measures and use alternate measures," is how Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, translated the memo’s point. (The center supports the plan.)

Schott, who studies welfare policy, said TANF sets guidelines for what activities may count toward meeting the law’s work requirements: jobs, job training, internships or school, to name a few. Beyond that, it puts restrictions on how many hours a welfare client may spend at school, or how many consecutive months they can attend before that activity no longer counts toward the work requirement.
   
The result: "States are running less-effective programs than they might be because they are so driven by performance measurement as it’s set forth in the federal law," Schott said.
   
Waiving work requirements, gutting reform?

The waivers, then, would allow for flexibility. For example, someone with a special-needs child might require different work arrangements than are currently allowed. Or a person who needs to improve his or her English skills might require more time to take classes.
   
"The real starting place is: What’s the most effective program to get this person to work?" Schott said.

It’s important to note, however, that the waivers would not just be a change on paper. Schott said it’s possible that waivers will allow states to get credit under the work requirement for things that don’t count currently.

Romney and other critics contend that this amounts to "gutting" reform. Robert Rector, a welfare expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, wrote that the new standards set a "very weak or counterproductive measure of success."

But there's no evidence the Obama administration has changed its philosophy. Indeed, the goal of the policy is to boost employment. The HHS letter, in several places, says only proposals from states that "improve employment outcomes" will be considered.

Our ruling

Santorum said that Obama "showed us once again he believes in government handouts and dependency by waiving the work requirement for welfare."

The claim is a drastic distortion of what the Obama administration said it intends to do. By granting waivers to states, HHS is seeking to make welfare-to-work efforts more successful, not end them. The waivers would apply to individually evaluated pilot programs -- HHS is not proposing a blanket, national change to welfare law. And there have been no comments by the Obama administration indicating such a dramatic shift in policy.

Santorum falsely claims that Obama has waived welfare’s work requirement entirely. The remark is inaccurate and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance. Pants on Fire!