There’s little Republicans love more these days than falsely attacking President Obama for stripping work requirements out of welfare.
But in their zeal to slash and de-federalize safety net programs, they’ve advanced legislation that would do exactly that.
The bill — sponsored by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Joseph J. Heck, (R-NV), and Buck McKeon (R-CA) and called the Workforce Investment Improvement Act — would allow states to lump moneys from state-federal employment and training programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, into a single fund. But by doing so, it could essentially nullify federal eligibility requirements for those programs, according to the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan analysis arm of Congress which reviewed the bill.
It’s ideologically consistent with other piecemeal GOP efforts to roll back and privatize federal support programs, and/or devolves them to the states. As such it would empower state and local workforce boards, and increase employers’ influence on those boards. But it goes farther than anything President Obama has done to TANF, which been accused — inaccurately — of eliminating welfare-to-work requirements.
“I don’t think the TANF work requirements were what they had in mind when they were working on the Foxx bill,” says Elizabeth Lower-Basch of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “But it is sort of a collateral consequence.”
According to a brief written by CLASP, for the House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on the bill in June, the bill also “eliminates many of the requirements and mandates that governed the now consolidated streams.” The committee cleared the bill anyway.
That, of course, is exactly what Republicans are falsely claiming the Obama administration’s state waivers would do. In reality, those waivers are only on offer to states that can demonstrate that they have or will increase the number of people transitioning from welfare to work by at least 20 percent.
The GOP’s legislation has no such safeguards. According to the Congressional Research Service analysis of the bill published this month, “[I]f TANF funds were consolidated into the [Workforce Investment Fund], TANF program requirements (e.g., work requirements) may no longer apply to that portion of funding because the TANF funding would not exist (i.e., it would be part of the WIF and thus subject to WIF program requirements).”
Neither the Romney nor Obama campaigns have responded to requests for comment on the bill’s implications. But it’s clear from the committee vote that there’s a well of GOP support for wiping out all kinds of eligibility requirements for federal programs in the service of slashing them.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.