Mitt Romney has spent the week characterizing President Obama’s decision to grant waivers to states seeking innovative solutions for meeting the work requirements in welfare reform as gutting the program. In reality, the administration would require participating states “to increase the number of people transitioning from welfare to work by 20 percent” and require states to “demonstrate clear progress” in the first year of the waiver.
Interestingly, Romney’s newly-minted Vice Presidential running-mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), adopted a different approach as a congressman during the Bush administration. In 2002, Ryan folded a provision into a House-backed version of President Bush’s welfare reauthorization bill that provided his home state “a significant break in meeting new federal work rules,” lowering the work requirement from 70 percent to just 45 percent. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (4/3/2002):
Those measures — patterned after a Bush administration plan — require states to have 70% of their welfare recipients working by 2007. That’s compared with an average of about one-third now.
But under the change sought by Ryan, a Janesville Republican, the states with the biggest drop in their welfare caseloads since 1995 would have a lower threshold to meet.
Wisconsin had the third-biggest caseload drop between 1995 and 2001–76%. Under Ryan’s change, that would mean the state would need to have 54% of its welfare recipients working by 2007, instead of 70%. Sixteen other states would get relief under the change, but only two states would benefit more than Wisconsin.
Echoing language now employed by the Obama administration, Ryan argued that the provision would “give the state more flexibility in meeting the tough new federal work requirements expected to be enacted this year — including more use of education and training to help move people into better-paying jobs.”
“We need to be able to have the freedom to exercise discrimination on a case-by-case basis,” he said. Democrats approved the measure and “Ryan also got a provision included that is designed to make it easier for states to get broad waivers from federal rules in order to experiment with new programs.”
Ryan has since criticized the Obama administration’s welfare waiver, arguing that the policy would have the effect of “increasing welfare dependency without transitioning people back to work.” “That is not the American idea. That’s a welfare state,” he insisted.