Since Heritage’s Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley broke the story on July 12 that the Obama Administration had gutted the work requirements from the 1996 welfare reform law, the Administration has denied it. In recent weeks, media “fact checks” have popped up all over declaring The Heritage Foundation’s scoop “False.”
Major media—most recently, CNN—have carried water for President Obama’s defense of rewriting the welfare reform law. Since these supposed government watchdogs are playing the lapdog, Heritage will continue to provide the facts and do the investigative reporting.
Rector has already debunked the Administration’s claims that it did not gut welfare reform and that Republican governors tried to do the same thing in 2005. Now, he is taking apart the Administration’s defense of its new waiver policy piece-by-piece in a new series of papers.
The Claim: New Rules Will Still Increase Work
CNN’s “fact checkers” claim that “In some small way, the waivers might change precisely how work is calculated but the essential goal of pushing welfare recipients to work—something both Democrats and Republicans agreed to in the 1990s—remains the same.”
This is exactly Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s defense: that waiving welfare’s work requirements for states under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program will still require states to get welfare recipients into jobs. She maintains that the states will have to “commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s past performance.”
The Facts: Bogus Measures of Success
Rector meets this claim head-on in his new paper, “Ending Work for Welfare: Bogus Measures of Success.”
This standard is vague, first of all, since states do not actually need to fulfill it but merely “demonstrate clear progress toward that goal no later than one year” after they are exempted from the old TANF work standards. Nonetheless, at first glance, this goal looks fairly impressive.
President Obama’s HHS will exempt states from the federal work requirements if they increase by 20 percent the number of TANF cases that lose eligibility due to increases in earnings, a measure called “employment exits.” There are four reasons why a 20 percent increase in the number of employment exits, although it sounds impressive, is a very weak or counterproductive measure of success in welfare reform.
The four reasons this measure is weak, Rector says:
1. Employment exits will increase automatically when the economy recovers. Virtually every state in the U.S. will experience an increase in its employment exits by 20 percent “compared to the state’s past performance” as the economy moves from recession toward higher employment.
2. States could meet the target simply with better record keeping. A large number of TANF recipients leave the program each month for unknown or unspecified reasons. It seems likely that many states could meet the 20 percent increase target simply by collecting or reporting more accurate data on their current exits.
3. A 20 percent increase in exits is insignificant. An increase in employment exits of 20 percent is actually a very small change. The average state has a monthly TANF caseload of around 40,000 families and an annual caseload of perhaps 80,000. Each state has around 600 employment exits from TANF each month, or 1.5 percent of monthly caseload. According to Obama’s new welfare system, the state can be fully exempt from the work standards written in the TANF law if it raises its employment exits from 600 per month to 720. Why is it reasonable, fair, or wise to exempt the remaining 39,000 welfare households from workfare participation just because an extra 120 have left the rolls?
4. More employment exits indicate a larger caseload. The number of employment exits generally rises when the size of the welfare caseload rises, and it falls when the caseload falls. This is due to routine caseload turnover.
Rector concludes that “The number of employment exits is thus meaningless as a method for assessing the TANF program. Employment exits is a sham measure of success that creates the impression that welfare dependence is being reduced when, in reality, the number of persons on welfare is constant or rising.”
Under the Administration’s new measurement, the old welfare program would have been deemed a success, while the extremely successful 1996 reforms would have looked like a failure.
With an Administration that routinely creates new laws by executive order—disregarding the people’s elected representatives—accountability is in short supply. Heritage legal experts Todd Gaziano, Robert Alt, and Andrew Grossman have detailed why the Administration’s actions are illegal. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has no authority to grant the type of waivers it is creating. Yet the media haven’t done a “legality check” on the Obama Administration.
Stay tuned for the next installment in Rector’s continuing series next week.
Read the first installment: Ending Work for Welfare: Bogus Measures of Success
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