House GOP Blocks Welfare Reform Waivers Republican Governors Requested

During the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney assailed a policy from the Obama administration that would have granted states waivers to improve their welfare programs under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Even though the waivers were requested by a host of Republican governors, including Romney himself, Romney alleged that the policy was an attempt to “gut welfare reform.”

Those claims were blatantly untrue, but that didn’t stop Romney and Republicans in Congress from repeating the claims throughout the election. Now, those false claims have reached the legislative level, as House Republicans included a provision to bar the administration from issuing waivers in a bill that reauthorized funding for TANF Wednesday. In a statement on the legislation, the White House noted that not a single governor had requested a waiver under the program, in part because of the GOP’s false claims:

Ultimately, no States formally applied for State waivers, deterred in part by inaccurate claims about what the policy involves; therefore, the limiting provision would have no practical effect on any pending application. The Administration is disappointed that the bill includes this unnecessary bar to innovative welfare-to-work strategies.

At the time of election, two Republican governors supported the waiver program the Obama administration had outlined. The House GOP legislation, meanwhile, aims to prevent waivers that would do away with the 1996 welfare reform law’s work requirements, which the administration policy would not do. It would simply give states more flexibility in determining how to meet those requirements.


Welfare reform has largely failed over its 16 years of existence despite Republican claims to the contrary. It has not gotten benefits to children who need them the most, and it fell especially short during and after the Great Recession.