Following a July 2012 Health and Human Services memo offering states a chance to apply for waivers that would allow them more flexibility in complying with welfare’s work requirements, conservatives began claiming that President Obama had ‘gutted’ the 1996 welfare reform law and waived all work requirements associated with receiving assistance. This is false. Currently, activities that fulfill work requirements are narrowly defined by changes made during the law’s 2005 reauthorization, and the waivers would let states try out new approaches to moving welfare beneficiaries towards stable employment while maintaining the principle that recipients must be progressing towards work. Yet the allegation remains popular among conservatives, thanks largely to the efforts of the Heritage Foundation’s in-house welfare expert, Robert Rector.
In the past two months, Rector has published at least 16 items on the subject of welfare reform, including the July 12 blog post cited in Mitt Romney’s now-infamous television ad that provoked a storm of fact checks. Given his role in promoting the attack on the administration, Rector’s record deserves a closer look.
Rector was involved in crafting the 1996 welfare reform law and has spent more than two decades arguing that Americans who live in poverty are not truly “poor” because they own “modern amenities,” such as vehicles and household electronics. To bolster his position, Rector has cited statistics showing that impoverished Americans are “more likely to be overweight” than better-off Americans and outright denied that poverty is “harmful” to children. The clear intent of these claims is to undermine the logic behind the safety net. In fact, Rector has stated explicitly that welfare is based on the “idiot premise” that more resources will cause poor Americans to “behave more like middle-class people.”Read more after the jump.