Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today made the following statement in response to a recent announcement from the Department of Health and Human Services that it would consider requests from the states to operate demonstration projects within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to help recipients prepare for, find and maintain employment:
"The first phase of welfare reform in the 1990s was waivers provided to the states to help them test new ways to move individuals from welfare to work. HHS Secretary Sebelius is now using that same waiver authority to allow states to once again to find innovate ways to increase employment among welfare recipients. This policy is pro-work, and it acknowledges that not all wisdom resides in Washington.
"Curiously, some of the same voices that pay lip service to the virtues of state flexibility now appear to oppose providing waivers under the TANF program. It turns out that Republican support for state flexibility is a one-way street -- they support flexibility when it comes to reducing assistance for needy Americans looking for work, but they oppose giving states greater discretion in helping people find work.
"Any demonstration project approved by HHS must be designed to improve employment outcomes for welfare recipients, as validated by a rigorous evaluation. Current basic TANF provisions, including the five-year time limit on benefits and fixed block grant funding levels, will not change under these projects. This is very consistent with the underlying thrust of the 1996 welfare law -- expecting states to help people prepare for and find work, while giving them some flexibility in achieving that goal.
"I strongly support the Administration's call for states to find innovative ways to promote employment, and I hope the states will use this opportunity to help more families climb the economic ladder through work.
"It is reprehensible for Gov. Romney to suggest the administration is stripping welfare work requirements. Gov. Romney has charged ahead with a politically motivated attack that totally misrepresents the administration's reason for permitting state waivers. Welfare reform, which I supported, needs people to work together to improve it, not manipulate it for political purposes. Helping people work is at the core of welfare reform and that is exactly what these new waivers aim to achieve."