A welfare reform waiver proposed by the Obama administration that would allow states more flexibility in employment programs tied to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has come under fire from conservative institutions and congressional Republicans since it was introduced last week. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) has led the charge against the policy, and in a fiery floor speech Monday, he accused the Obama’s administration of wanting to “undo welfare reform” with the “stroke of a pen”:
HATCH: In essence, by the stroke of a pen, and against the clear intent of bipartisan majorities of the American people, Congress and the law itself, President Obama’s administration has attempted to undo welfare reform, one of the signature bipartisan policy achievements of the last 20 years. […] This landmark legislation, the product of a Republican-controlled Congress, ended an entitlement to welfare and replaced it with a block grant to the states. The block grant known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, provided states with unprecedented control over welfare programs in exchange for meeting federal work standards.
But the changes sought by the administration seem similar to the program Hatch described in his rant. The administration’s waivers would give even more of the “unprecedented control” Hatch cites to state governments, a type of reform usually supported by Republicans. And though it waives certain federal requirements, the states will still have to meet federal standards (and establish their own benchmarks) under the waiver program.
Further, the reforms hardly “gut” welfare reform or its welfare-to-work requirement. Instead, they aim to improve a program that is woefully inadequate when compared to the federally-controlled welfare program that preceded it.
Though Hatch has a problem with the administration’s plan, other Republicans in his state actually began the push for waivers. Utah, under Republican control, began calling for the waivers in 2011 (along with Nevada, also under Republican control). “Utah is especially interested in the development of waiver authority in the TANF grant,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) wrote in a letter to HHS after the decision was announced.