NYT proves Romney right on welfare

Mickey Kaus Columnist
Font Size:

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. ****


**–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.

Mickey Kaus