AP Calls HHS's Gutting of Welfare Reform a 'Proposal'

On July 12, the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children & Families, the group which administers the entitlement program known to most as "welfare" or "traditional welfare, issued an "Information Memorandum" entitled "Guidance concerning waiver and expenditure authority under Section 1115" (i.e., not "proposed guidance"). After navigating the thicket of bureaucratic babble contained therein, Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley at the Heritage Foundation asserted, with agreement from several other quarters and no meaningful dissent I have detected, that the memo's effect "is the end of welfare reform."

The next day at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, the headline at Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar's related story was: "Administration proposes welfare-to-work waivers."


The memo is not a "proposal"; it is guidance to states on how to prepare proposals that will get around the original law's work requirement. Specifically, quoting each instance HHS used the word or variations on it in the memo (bolds are mine):

  • "The Secretary is interested in using her authority to approve waiver demonstrations to challenge states to engage in a new round of innovation that seeks to find more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment. In providing for these demonstrations, HHS will hold states accountable by requiring both a federally-approved evaluation and interim performance targets that ensure an immediate focus on measurable outcomes. States must develop evaluation plans that are sufficient to evaluate the effect of the proposed approach in furthering a TANF purpose as well as interim targets the state commits to achieve."
  • Waiver requests must include an evaluation plan. In order to provide the strongest evidence about the effectiveness of the demonstration, the preferred evaluation approach is a random assignment methodology, unless the Secretary determines that an alternative approach is more appropriate in light of the demonstration proposed.
  • The request must specify the proposed length of time for the demonstration project.
  • Therefore, the state must provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to provide input into the decision-making process prior to the time a proposal is approved by HHS. Further guidance concerning this requirement will be forthcoming.
  • The Information Memorandum outlines the types of waivers that will and will not be considered. The Secretary is only interested in approving waivers if the state can explain in a compelling fashion why the proposed approach may be a more efficient or effective means to promote employment entry, retention, advancement, or access to jobs that offer opportunities for earnings and advancement that will allow participants to avoid dependence on government benefits.

Other elements of Alonso-Zaldivar's writeup are also misleading:

  • In Paragraph 3, he writes that "States will not be able to escape the work requirements of the landmark 1996 federal welfare reform law, the administration said, but they may get federal approval to try to accomplish the same goals by using different methods than those spelled out in the legislation." But in Paragraph 11, he conceded that "Still, a state can seek a waiver to cover its entire welfare population." Well, Ricardo, a waiver for the entire population means that a stall-ball approach to the work requirement (e.g., endless "job training") effectively enables a state to, well, "escape the work requirements."
  • He essentially opined that this is a much-ado-about-nothing matter when he wrote that "What started out as just another bureaucratic memorandum drew a swift rebuke from one of the authors of welfare reform, as well as from senior Republican lawmakers." The reaction shows that it never was "just another bureaucratic memorandum."
  • He needled Orrin Hatch, who has criticized the memo and asserted its illegality (the bill's authors made the work requirement airtight, but HHS falsely claimed, as the Heritage pair explained, that it can grant waivers based on a tortured reading of the Social Security Act) by citing Utah as a state requesting a waiver. But all Utah really wants, in the AP writer's own words, is "relief from burdensome federal reporting requirements that tie up staffers who could be helping welfare recipients find a job." As long as the state doesn't change anything in its approach, this doesn't have a darned thing to do with the HHS memorandum. Ricardo should know that. My guess is that he does, but desperately needed something to show that certain Republicans are behind what HSS has done, when they're not.

On his program yesterday, Rush Limbaugh, even though he didn't specifically reference Alonso-Zaldivar's story, was right when he asserted that "in the mainstream media you would not have heard that Obama just gutted it (welfare reform) in a lawless fashion." What we got instead from the Administration's Press was a cover-up headline accompanied by inaccurate (and worse) reporting.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.