Fact Checkers Wrong on Obama’s Welfare Spin

Everyone needs oversight and fact checkers – no matter how revered by professional political pundits, campaign flacks and talking heads – are no exception.

Just look at welfare.

On July 12, the Obama administration unilaterally – and illegally – gutted a key work requirement provision of the 1996 welfare reform law.  The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley explained that if Congress intended the work requirements to be waivable “it would have listed that section as waiveable,” but “it did not do that.”

Intended to be part of President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait” political strategy, the move instead reinforced the notion that his policies are making Americans more dependent on government (remember, food stamp spending has doubled under his watch).  And less than a month later, the Romney campaign rolled out an ad attacking President Obama’s executive order.

The fact checkers went ballistic (here, here, here and here), but in doing so missed the key loophole created by the administration.  Heritage’s Rector explains the creation of sham work standards:

In order to be exempt from federal work participation standards, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that a state would have to “move at least 20% more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s past performance.” This standard is vague, since states do not actually need to fulfill it but merely “demonstrate clear progress toward that goal no later than one year” after they are exempted from the old TANF work standards. Nonetheless, at first glance, this goal looks fairly impressive.

President Obama’s HHS will exempt states from the federal work requirements if they increase by 20 percent the number of TANF cases that lose eligibility due to increases in earnings, a measure called “employment exits.” There are four reasons why a 20 percent increase in the number of employment exits, although it sounds impressive, is a very weak or counterproductive measure of success in welfare reform.

Why is it a sham?  1) Employment exits will increase automatically when the economy recovers.  2) States could meet the target simply with better record keeping.  3) A 20 percent increase in exits is insignificant.  4) More employment exits indicate a larger caseload.

Amazingly, none of the fact checkers bothered to discuss the shame exit metric.  Apparently, none could be bothered to explain why it is a perverse measure of success.  Fortunately, Rector does and he explains the logic (if you can call it that) of the administration’s metrics:

According to the Obama Administration’s preferred measure of welfare performance, the pre-reform AFDC system was a stunning success: Employment exits nearly doubled. By contrast, the post-reform TANF program was a failure because employment exits declined.

Remember, President Obama never favored the 1996 welfare reform law (especially the work requirements), so it should come as no surprise he is slowly but surely undermining the law’s most successfully elements.

What should be a surprise – and a wakeup call – is just how badly the fact checkers missed the mark.

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