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Welfare-to-work standards being waived

| Saturday, July 14, 2012, 12:43 a.m.

Under a new federal directive, states can apply for waivers regarding work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, commonly known as welfare.

A memo issued on Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates it can allow states to “test alternative and innovative strategies, policies and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”

Critics question the department's authority to allow waivers and complain that the Obama administration is trying to reverse reforms from the mid-1990s.

“What they've done is abolished federal work standards,” said Robert Rector, a welfare expert with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. “They found a very dubious loophole and are now saying whatever is written in the law doesn't matter.”

The department said Republican and Democratic state officials requested the waivers.

“Federal rules dictate mind-numbing details about how to run a welfare-to-work program. Most states and experts agree that these aren't helpful,” George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the department's Administration for Children and Families, said in a statement on the department's website. “The new policy we announced will allow states to test new, more effective ways to help parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.”

Under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, states receive federal money to develop and implement their own welfare programs. It requires certain levels of participation in activities including job training, vocational educational training or secondary school attendance.

Single parents must participate an average of 30 hours per week, 20 if they have a child younger than 6. Two-parent families must participate for an average of 35 hours a week or 55 hours if they receive federal child care assistance.

“Under current TANF rules, many states report that their caseworkers are spending more time complying with federal documentation requirements than helping parents find jobs. We need state workers spending less time filling out data reports and more time helping parents find employment,” Sheldon wrote.

Some question the department's authority to allow for such waivers.

“Eliminating the work requirements and turning back the clock to once again make welfare a system that simply writes checks is insulting to taxpayers who are already struggling to make ends meet in the Obama economy,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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