Mitt Romney on Tuesday accused President Obama of dismantling the bipartisan welfare reform law Bill Clinton signed in 1996, claiming Obama has waived work requirements on people who receive government assistance.
“If I’m president, I’ll put work back in welfare,” Romney said in Elk Grove Village, Ill. ‘‘We will end the culture of dependency and restore a culture of good hard work.”
The Obama campaign countered by citing a waiver request Romney made to Congress in 2005, as governor of Massachusetts, that it said was even more lenient on welfare work mandates.
In fact, neither Obama nor Romney has sought to ease work requirements on welfare recipients.
A new Romney campaign ad released Tuesday credits Clinton with “end[ing] welfare as we know it by requiring work for welfare.”
“But on July 12,” the ad continues, “President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. 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.”
The Romney campaign’s claim is based on a memorandum from the Department of Health and Human Services that does afford states the opportunity to seek waivers from federal welfare requirements.
But HHS said it would grant waivers only to states committed to “testing approaches that build on existing evidence on successful strategies for improving employment outcomes.”
Requests for such waivers have come primarily from Republican governors.
“The president recently gave states more tools they need to help move people from welfare to work as quickly as possible,” Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said on a conference call with reporters. “Contrary to what Romney is alleging, President Obama’s actions have strengthened, not weakened, the welfare system’s ability to move people from assistance to employment.”
The Obama administration created the waiver option in response to governors’ contentions that they could produce better results unbound by inflexible federal welfare rules.
The letter Romney signed seven years ago, along with 28 other members of the Republican Governors Association, made a similar argument.
“Romney is falsely criticizing a policy he once supported that empowers states to implement welfare reform,” Obama policy director James Kvaal said.
John Podesta, Clinton’s former chief of staff, criticized the old waiver request by Romney and Republican governors as overly broad, saying it “would have given states the opportunity to not impose the requirement of work and, I think, would have completely undermined the ’96 law.”
But Romney was a clear advocate of welfare work mandates in 2005 and was criticized by Massachusetts Democrats for being so stringent.
At the time, Massachusetts was already operating under a federal waiver that made its welfare work requirements among the weakest in the nation. In July 2005, Romney filed a bill that would have more than doubled the number of state welfare recipients required to work. His plan would have increased the number of hours welfare recipients were required to work and capped benefits at five years.
“I’m convinced this ... allows people to have the dignity and the opportunity for themselves and their children to recognize the importance of work in their lives,” Romney said at a press conference, announcing his plan.
Particularly controversial was Romney’s proposal to eliminate work exemptions for pregnant women in the third trimester, mothers with children between 1 and 2 years old and about 5,600 people who met state disability standards but not federal ones.
Even welfare recipients caring for disabled relatives and teenagers in school would have had some work requirements.
State lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected Romney’s plan.
At a campaign stop in Manchester, N.H. in January, Romney recalled people labeling his welfare policy proposal “heartless.”Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.