The issue of welfare reform has been germinating on the right for a few weeks now, ever since the Obama Administration granted waivers that conservatives claim would subvert the work requirements under the program. Now this has spilled into the Presidential race, as Mitt Romney (who I thought was planning on running a laser-focused campaign on the economy) released a new ad criticizing President Obama for “gutting welfare reform.”
Let’s briefly talk about the claim. Romney’s campaign says in the ad that Obama’s waiver will have the effect of dropping the work requirements from welfare. “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and you wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.” This isn’t the case. The waiver is eligible for demonstration projects in the states that could achieve the same goals as the current welfare program. It was sought by Republican states who want to customize their welfare programs for their states. Whether or not this drops the work requirement is entirely up to the states who apply for the waivers and implement the projects. Dave Weigel explains that states which receive the waiver would still need to submit to federal evaluation of the demonstration project’s performance, and a failure to meet targets would result in a termination of the program. Romney himself sought a waiver of this type in 2005.
But taking this a step further, why should anyone defend welfare as it has now become? The truth is that welfare reform failed, and failed quite miserably during the Great Recession. It simply did not deliver benefits to those in need of the aid. So gutting “welfare reform,” if it led to welfare actually rising with need, if it led to the work training programs actually surviving instead of getting cut, if it led to the safety net growing to meet demand instead of staying stagnant and letting people slip through the cracks, would be an excellent policy strategy.
You won’t hear this from the Obama Administration because they run from the word “welfare” almost as fast as they run from the phrase “gun control.” They’ll rebut the ad by saying that it doesn’t actually gut the work requirement. But as has become typical in this campaign, that leaves out the actual policy argument, namely that welfare reform is a proven failure.