Fund Your Utopia Without Me.™

10 August 2012

Romney's Truthful Welfare Ad...Smoking Gun Provided By The New York Times

 M2RB:  Robert Cray at Montreux

I have a nasty, nasty vision
And baby, you're in every one, yeah
And I'm so afraid
I'm gonna find you with
That so called smoking gun


By Mickey Klas

The smoking gun is always in the last place you look: I had some serious doubts about Mitt Romney’s ad attacking Obama’s welfare “waivers”–until I read the New York Times editorial denouncing it. Now I know Romney’s ad isn’t as accurate as I’d thought. It’s much more accurate.

The Times notes that one of the states proposing waivers from the 1996 welfare reform’s work requirements is Nevada–indeed,  Nevada was cited by the Obama Health and Human Services department when it quietly announced its plan to grant waivers on July 12 .**  Here’s how the Times describes what Nevada wants to do:

[Nevada] asked to discuss flexibility in imposing those requirements. Perhaps, the state asked, those families hardest to employ could be exempted from the work requirements for six months while officials worked with them to stabilize their households. [E.A.]

“Exempted from the work requirements for six months.” That’s not just “weakening” work requirements–the safe, milder charge I chose to make a couple of days ago. It’s explicitly tossing them out the window for an extended period–“to allow time for their barriers to be addressed and their household circumstances stabilized”, in Nevada’s words.***

For those six months it’s also, unaccountably, exactly what Romney says will happen in his ad:

You wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.

Romney’s admakers will have to do better than that if they want to earn their Pinocchios.

P.S.: And here I thought my friend Jonathan Alter was a victim of the liberal cocoon when he rushed to Twitter a few days ago to idiotically declare that the waivers “don’t weaken work requirements.” But it turns out the truth is so obvious you don’t even have to leave the cocoon to find it. All you have to do is read what the New York Times says while denying it. I apologize to the cocoon. ****

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

**–As part of HHS secretary Sebelius’ subsequent damage-control effort, she hinted that “it appears some of the policies enumerated in the letters [from Utah and Nevada] would not be eligible for waivers under our policy.” She wouldn’t say which ones, though.  I’d argue that HHS original statements, which Sebelius did not repudiate, are a better indication of HHS’ intent than her later PR backpedaling. The Times certainly thinks Nevada’s proposal is alive and well.

***–Here are the exact words in Nevada’s letter:

TANF Performance Measures and Possible Waiver Opportunities
Exempt the hardest-to-employ population for a period of time (i.e. six months) to allow time for their barriers to be addressed and their household circumstances stabilized; …

Note that “six months” isn’t an upper limit on the “exempt” period. Could be sixteen months. Note also that the NYT makes it sound as if Nevada might actually be requiring welfare recipients do something during this period–”while officials worked with them.” But the actual Nevada letter doesn’t say anything except that they need “time for their barriers to be addressed.”

More generally, Nevada proposes a broad, excuse-laden “progression” system in which all recipients with “employment barriers” are given “more time and assistance”–translation, more welfare with fewer obligations to work or train for work or look for work. What are “employment barriers”? They include lack of child care, transportation, drug addiction, “special needs such as clothing and tools,” and lack of “job seeking/retention skills.” Obesity can also be a “barrier.”

****–Maybe that’s why Newt Gingrich, apparently wrongly, said there was “no proof” that Obama  might be “be comfortable sending a lot of people checks for doing nothing.” He’s not in the cocoon.

How Obama has gutted welfare reform

To hear Bill Clinton tell it, there’s no truth to the charges that President Obama gutted welfare reform. The White House, fact-checkers and some journalists have said the same, playing down Obama’s decision to exempt states from the law’s work requirements.

Working closely with members of Congress, I helped draft the work requirements in the 1996 law, and I raised the alarm on July 12, when the Obama administration issued a bureaucratic order allowing states to waive those requirements. The law has indeed been gutted. Here’s how:

The 1996 welfare reform law required that a portion of the able-bodied adults in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program — the successor to the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program — work or prepare for work. Those work requirements were the heart of the reform’s success: Welfare rolls dropped by half, and the poverty rate for black children reached its lowest level in history in the years following.

But the Obama administration has jettisoned the law’s work requirements, asserting that, in the future, no state will be required to follow them. In place of the legislated work requirements, the administration has stated, it will unilaterally design its own “work” systems without congressional involvement or consent. Any state will be free to follow the new Obama requirements “in lieu of” the written statute.

The administration has provided no historical evidence showing that Congress intended to grant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or any part of the executive branch the authority to waive the TANF work requirements. The historical record is clear and states the opposite; as the summary of the reform prepared by Congress shortly after enactment plainly says: “Waivers granted after the date of enactment may not override provisions of the TANF law that concern mandatory work requirements.”

The members of Congress closely involved in drafting this law have asserted that Obama’s action contradicts the letter and intent of the statute. For 15 years after welfare reform was enacted, no waivers of work requirements were issued by HHS. No such waivers were discussed because it was clear to all that Congress had never provided the department with such waiver authority.

What is it that the administration’s July guidance suddenly seeks to change? At the core of the 1996 law are “participation rate requirements” that ensure that 30 to 40 percent of able-bodied TANF recipients must engage in any of 12 different “work activities” for 20 to 30 hours per week. The administration would exempt states from this requirement and encourage them to operate under alternative performance measures. For example, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said that to bypass federal workfare requirements, a state would have to “move at least 20percent more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s past performance.”

At first blush, a 20 percent increase in “employment exits” sounds impressive. But what does it mean? In the typical state, about 1.5 percent of the TANF caseload leaves the rolls each month because of employment. To be exempt from the federal work requirement, a state would have to raise that number to about 1.8 percent of caseload. This is a minuscule change; as the economy improves, this small increase will occur automatically in most states. Moreover, states keep imperfect employment records of those leaving TANF; many states could easily achieve the required increase through modest improvements in recordkeeping alone.

But here’s the kicker. States have kept statistics on employment exits for decades, and they have always been meaningless as a measure of success. Welfare caseloads always have routine turnover; the larger the caseload, the greater the number of exits, simply because there are more people in the system. Historically, the number of employment exits rises as the caseload rises and falls as the caseload falls. The count of employment exits is at best pointless; at worst, it is a reverse indicator of limiting welfare dependence.

For example, according to the metric of employment exits, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children system was a whopping success: Caseloads soared and the number of employment exits nearly doubled. By contrast, the post-reform TANF program has been a failure, because caseloads fell and employment exits declined. This is why, when the 1996 reform was drafted, the count of employment exits was deliberately excluded as a success measure. It is inherently misleading.

The Obama administration is waiving the federal requirement that ensures a portion of able-bodied TANF recipients must engage in work activities. It is replacing that requirement with a standard that shows that the pre-reform welfare program was successful and the post-reform program a failure. If that is not gutting welfare reform, it is difficult to imagine what would be.

And, here's former Democratic candidate for Governor of California, Mickey Klas:

Why the Fact-Checkosphere is failing: So, as I understand it, this year the MSM will righteously strike back against “Post-Truth Politics” through rigorous fact-checking, followed by a manly, non-balanced, yet authoritative calling out of transgressors for the liars that they are.  James Fallows and Jay Rosen, among others, have heralded this great new day. One problem, of course, is the ease–rather, the constant temptation–of presenting debatable policy issues as right/wrong fact issues, a problem emphasized by dissenter Ben Smith yesterday. Another is the way what Smith calls “the new pseudo science of fact-checks” opens up a giant sluice for the introduction of concealed bias, especially when “facts” are fed to the fact-checkers by the competing campaigns.

But a simpler problem is that the MSM’s fact-checkers often don’t know what they’re talking about.   For example,  the oft-cited CNN-”fact check” of Romney’s welfare ad makes a big deal of HHS secretary Sebelius’ pledge that she will only grant waivers to states that “commit that their proposals will move at least 20% more people from welfare to work.” CNN swallows this 20% Rule whole in the course of declaring Romney’s objection “wrong”:

The waivers gave “those states some flexibility in how they manage their welfare rolls as long as it produced 20% increases in the number of people getting work.”

Why, it looks as if Obama wants to make the work provisions tougher! cites the same 20% rule.

I was initially skeptical of Sebelius’ 20% pledge, since a) it measures the 20% against “the state’s past performance,” not what the state’s performance would be if it actually tried to comply with the welfare law’s requirements as written, and b) Sebelius pulled it out of thin air only after it became clear that the new waiver rule could be a political problem for the president. She could just as easily drop it in the future; and c) Sebelius made it clear the states don’t have to actually achieve the 20% goal–only “demonstrate clear progress toward” it.

But Robert Rector, a welfare reform zealot who nevertheless does know what he’s talking about, has now published a longer analysis of the 20% rule. Turns out it’s not as big a scam as I’d thought it was. It’s a much bigger scam. For one thing, anything states do to increase the number of people on welfare will automatically increase the “exit” rate–what the 20% rule measures–since the more people going on welfare, the more people leave welfare for jobs in the natural course of things, without the state’s welfare bureaucrats doing anything at all.  Raise caseloads by 20% and Sebelius’ standard will probably be met. (Maybe raise caseloads 30% just to be sure.) So what looks like a tough get-to-work incentive is actually a paleoliberal “first-get-on-welfare” incentive. But the point of welfare reform isn’t to get more people onto welfare. **

It’s understandable that MSM reporters and non-profit checkers–some of whom may have been given only a few hours to get to the bottom of a subject they’ve never written about before–would easily fall for a bit of bureaucratic fakery. Do they have to be so self-righteous about it?

Update: Defending Obama’s waivers on Meet the Press today, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel relies heavily on the bogus “20%” requirement. [Relevant clip is about 10:56 in]. … You have to suspect that what Rahm really thinks is: “Why am I talking about welfare? This #&*!$)! would never have made it out of HHS if I was still in the White House.” …

 Smoking Gun - Robert Cray

 I get a constant busy signal
When I call you on the phone
I get a strong, uneasy feeling
You're not sitting there alone

I have a nasty, nasty vision
And baby, you're in every one, yeah
And I'm so afraid
I'm gonna find you with
That so called smoking gun

Maybe you wanna end this
You've had you're fill
With my kind of fun
But you don't know how to tell me
And you know that I'm not that dumb

I put two and one together
And you know that's not an even sum
And I know just when to catch you with
That well known smoking gun

I'm standing here bewildered
I can't remember just what I've done
I can hear the sirens winding
My eyes blinded by the sun

I know that I should be running
My heart's beating just like the drum
Now they've knocked me down and taken it
That still hot smoking gun

Yeah, yeah
That still hot smoking gun

They've taken it
That still hot smoking gun

Ohh, they've taken it
That still hot smoking gun

They've knocked me down
They've taken it, ohhh

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