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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead September 6, 2012

Rahm Emanuel says Romney asked for welfare work waiver in Massachusetts

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, jumped into the fray over welfare work requirements during an appearance Sunday on Meet the Press.

Emanuel also served as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton during welfare reform in 1996. The reform law transformed welfare from an indefinite entitlement to temporary assistance that required people to eventually join the workforce. That’s what the changes Obama announced this summer are also aimed at, Emanuel said, by giving states flexibility in how they move welfare recipients into employment.

The work rule reforms, Emanuel said, "have one goal: work. Fifty different creative ways to achieve it. Gov. Romney asked for, actually, a waiver. But you had to make sure your plan for Massachusetts, which is different than Mississippi or Alabama's or California's, achieves the goal of work. And it was every governor, regardless of party, who wanted to be creative in their own way to achieve this single goal. And that is exactly how it's supposed to work," Emanuel said in the Sept. 2, 2012, appearance.

Emanuel’s statement is somewhat garbled by the mixing the past (Romney’s one term as governor as Massachusetts) with the present (the changes announced by Obama this summer). But a fuller transcript of Emanuel’s comments make it fairly clear that he is accusing Romney of being hypocritical -- namely, of attacking Obama for changes to the welfare law that Romney himself once advocated.

But Emanuel’s statement went one step further -- saying Romney specifically asked for a waiver like ones Obama proposed.

Is that true?

First, some background
Welfare erupted as an issue in the presidential campaign in August, when the Romney campaign released an ad accusing Obama of gutting the work requirement in welfare reform.  

"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," the Romney ad said.

We looked into the claim and rated it Pants On Fire. The changes Obama sought don’t eliminate the work requirement but instead give states the ability to test different programs for helping residents move toward work. (They first have to have approval of their programs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) A July memo from HHS specified several times that any states seeking waivers must show that employment will grow under their pilot programs.

Romney’s letter
We did not hear back from Emanuel or the Democratic National Committee about this claim. But we suspect it’s related to a 2005 letter that Romney and 28 other Republican governors signed in support of legislation to extend the welfare reform law.
The governors wrote that an extension was needed so they could effectively implement welfare block grants in their states, and they emphasized the positive aspects of a bill being considered in the Senate known as the PRIDE Act. Those included a stable funding stream, support for abstinence education, child care and, mostly notably "increased waiver authority."
"The Senate bill provides states with the flexibility to manage their (grant) programs effectively and serve low-income populations. 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," the letter states.
That sounds a lot like what the Obama administration has outlined in its memo about state waivers. But it’s not exactly a request for a waiver in Massachusetts.

What about Massachusetts?

We delved back into news coverage from 2005 and 2006 to look for any mention of Romney requesting a waiver for his state. We found he was doing something nearly opposite of that.

In 1995, the year before federal welfare reform passed, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted state reform. When federal reform passed the next year, Massachusetts received a waiver exempting it from federal welfare rules. (Keep in mind, Romney was not governor at this time.)

Here’s the Boston Globe’s report on it from the time: "Like the federal law, the Bay State's law includes time limits and work requirements: Recipients who are not exempt are limited to 24 months of assistance in any five-year period and must work between 20 hours and 30 hours a week, depending on the age of their youngest child. With its waiver, Massachusetts continues to receive federal money, which it supplements with state tax dollars."

In general, the federal rules were tougher than Massachusetts’, so the state was having to ratchet up its requirements in order to get in compliance.

In late 2004, a state advisory panel came up with a set of recommendations. Romney, by then in his second year as governor, offered his own outline -- and what he proposed exceeded the panel’s ideas and the federal law’s requirements.

He sought to roughly double the number of Massachusetts welfare recipients who have to work, "eliminating exemptions for pregnant women in the third trimester, mothers with children between 1 and 2 years old, and about 5,600 people who are considered disabled under state standards but not under federal ones. His plan also would impose work requirements on recipients caring for a disabled relative and teenagers in school," a story in the Globe said.

Ultimately, the state Legislature took no final action to overhaul welfare. The fact remains, however, that Romney not only didn’t seek a waiver from HHS, he pushed for tougher work demands in his state.

Our ruling

Emanuel said on Meet the Press that Romney sought a state waiver for meeting federal welfare work requirements.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed onto a letter supporting a bill to extend the federal welfare reform law. That letter urged greater state flexibility and increased waiver authority, which adds grist to the charge Romney is being hypocritical in attacking Obama now for gutting work requirements. It also indicates he supported the principle allowing states some waiver authority.

But Emanuel’s words were "Romney asked for, actually, a waiver," and that is not true. Emanuel stretched the meaning of the 2005 letter signed by Romney and other governors, fabricating a waiver request that never existed.

The claim omits critical facts and creates an inaccurate impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

NBC, "Meet the Press," Sept. 2, 2012

PolitiFact, "Carney says Romney favored welfare forever legislation," Aug. 9, 2012

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney says Barack Obama’s plan for welfare reform: "They just send you your check," Aug. 7, 2012

Letter to Sen. Bill Frist, May 19, 2005

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Information Memorandum, July 12, 2012

THOMAS, Personal Responsibility and Individual Development for Everyone Act, March 17, 2005

Boston Globe, "State eyes tougher rules for welfare; work requirements would be expanded," Nov. 25, 2004, via Nexis

Boston Globe, "Legislators buck Romney on welfare," Sept. 21, 2005, via Nexis

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Rahm Emanuel says Romney asked for welfare work waiver in Massachusetts

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