As governor Romney gave cars to welfare recipients, called for state waivers

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Mitt Romney is attacking President Barack Obama for allowing states to apply for waivers from federal welfare rules, but as governor of Massachusetts he provided cars to welfare recipients and advocated for greater state flexibility in administering benefits.

An ad released Tuesday by Romney’s presidential campaign says, “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job, they just send you your welfare check.” A July policy change by the Obama administration would “gut” the 1996 welfare reform law, says the ad.

However, in 2005 Romney, along with 28 other Republican governors, signed a letter asking for waivers from federal welfare requirements to allow states greater “flexibility.”

“Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit, and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work,” said the letter.

In July Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services announced that states would be able to apply for waivers from federal work requirement rules in favor of “new, more effective ways” of helping welfare recipients “successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.”

According to HHS, states must outline “measurable outcomes” in waiver applications. If the goals are not met, the states “can face termination of the waiver project.”

Asked on a Tuesday conference call with reporters why Romney opposes a policy he apparently supported in 2005, Romney deputy policy director Jonathan Burks said the Republican candidate for president never wanted “a waiver of the core work requirement.”

By making welfare into a campaign issue Romney also risks reminding voters about a program he presided over as governor of Massachusetts that billed taxpayers for cars donated to welfare recipients.

The Boston Herald reported in 2011 that under Romney’s free car program, “the state paid out one year’s insurance, inspection, excise tax, title, registration, repairs and a AAA membership for cars that were donated to welfare recipients.”

“[T]hose who lost their jobs and ended up back on welfare were allowed to keep their free wheels,” said the report.

The car program cost taxpayers $400,000 in 2006, the Herald reported, but was defended by a Romney spokesman who said it saved the state $1 million over three years by reducing dependence on welfare.

“It sounds like a program that President Obama would come up with,” Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips told the Herald last November.

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