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President Obama to allow states to request waivers for work requirement for welfare recipients

July 13, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
President Obama has apparently sent a letter advising states that they may seek a waiver for work requirements for people receiving welfare assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

According to the letter, the move is to "test alternative and innovative strategies, policies and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families," according to a story on the FOX news web site and the ultimate goal will still be to move people off the welfare rolls and into productive work. It would allow states more flexibility. According to the story, suggested alternative plans could "combine learning and work" to fulfill the work requirement, or let "vocational educational training or job search /readiness programs" count as well. According to the story, the number of people on welfare has declined since welfare reform took effect in the mid 1990s, but there are about 4 million people on the rolls.

Probably not surprisingly, Rush Limbaugh was among the people who pounced on this news and accused the President of "gutting welfare reform." He spent the better part of an hour lambasting the policy on this morning's show, which I listened to as I drove back from Garrison. The main objection seems to be not only to the changes themselves but to whether Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius actually has the authority to make those changes.

I'm not seeing a lot of specifics in any of the stories I've skimmed but I don't see anything that egregious about putting more flexibility in the program. That should allow different states to try new programs that might work better in their particular areas.

I also wonder if easing up on work requirements might have something to do with how terrible the economy and the job market are in many states. If a welfare recipient is required to work but can't find a job, it likely makes things difficult for the administrators charged with running those state programs. I know that there are a large number of people with BAs and even master's degrees who are currently unemployed or underemployed, probably making it even tougher for the average single mother or father on welfare with young children.

Years ago I remember one objection to the law was the stress it put on single moms as well as interfering with their ability to go to college and possibly obtain degrees that would eventually let them earn a higher standard of living and stay off the rolls permanently. I don't know if they have tweaked the law in recent years to make it easier for people with kids who receive welfare benefits to also go to college. I would also be interested in whether that added flexibility will also include easing the time limit on how long people can be on the welfare rolls.

I doubt North Dakota will be applying for a waiver, but we are in better shape than many states and any person who wants a job should be able to find one. Welfare benefits or some type of child care assistance might be necessary for some people here, but some sort of work should probably be a requirement for them as well.

Easing up on the welfare restrictions in states that are less well off sounds to me like a smart idea.


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