Meet The Man Behind The Claim That Obama ‘Gutted’ Welfare Reform


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.”

Instead, Rector apparently believes that poverty is merely a symptom of substandard values. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising that he is also a committed advocate for abstinence-only education, which he regards not as a public health issue but a simple question of morality. Dismissing “effectiveness” as a “bogus issue” when it comes to abstinence-only education, Rector complains that comprehensive sex-ed “normalizes” sexual activity outside of marriage.

Rector is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, and he has collaborated with other DeVos Center researchers on his work relating to welfare reform and poverty. While the entire DeVos family is deeply involved in GOP politics, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation is among the most generous funders of conservative organizations, such as Focus on the Family and the Media Research Center. The foundation has given Heritage at least $10 million since 1998, including $3 million in 2010.

Heritage Foundation Fueled Allegation That Obama ‘Gutted’ Welfare Reform

“…it was my research that was featured in those ads…it was all over the ads.”

-Robert Rector, Heritage Foundation

GOP Welfare Ad Cited Heritage Foundation

Romney Ad Cited Heritage Foundation To Support Claim That Obama ‘Gutted’ Welfare Reform. According to an ad from the Romney campaign: “On July 12, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” The line is accompanied by the onscreen citation pictured below:


[Mitt Romney, “Right Choice,” 8/7/12]

  • Heritage: Obama Policy “Guts The Federal Work Requirements.” According to the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley, in a blog post titled, “Obama Guts Welfare Reform”: “Today, the Obama Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released an official policy directive rewriting the welfare reform law of 1996. The new policy guts the federal work requirements that were the foundation of the reform law. The Obama directive bludgeons the letter and intent of the actual reform legislation.” [, 7/12/12]
  • Heritage: “The Result Is The End Of Welfare Reform.” According to the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley, in a blog post titled, “Obama Guts Welfare Reform”: The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama Administration clearly guts the law. The Administration tramples on the actual legislation passed by Congress and seeks to impose its own policy choices — a pattern that has become all too common in this Administration. The result is the end of welfare reform.” [, 7/12/12]

Heritage’s Rector Bragged That “It Was My Research That Was Featured In Those Ads.” During a Heritage Foundation “Blogger’s Briefing,” Robert Rector said: “The interesting thing I was just talking about on the way over here is that when Romney did ads about this it was my research that was featured in those ads. It was all over the ads. When the mainstream fact-checkers went to check those facts in the ads, guess how many called me? One out of about ten of them. Because they knew perfectly well that if they talked to me they might run into a fact that would counter their spin, and that would be highly unpleasant.” [, 9/4/12]

Heritage Fellow Robert Rector Aggressively Promoting Argument That Obama ‘Gutted’ Welfare Reform 

Robert Rector Has Published Eight Heritage Items About Welfare Reform Since July 12. Robert Rector has published the following items on the Heritage Foundation’s website since July 12: “Obama Guts Welfare Reform” (7/12); “Obama Ends Welfare Reform as We Know It, Calls for $12.7 Trillion in New Welfare Spending” (7/17); “Obama Administration Rebuffs Congressional Inquiry on Legality of Gutting Welfare Reform” (7/19); “Even More Bad News on Obama HHS Gutting Welfare Reform” (7/26); “Ending Work for Welfare: Bogus Measures of Success” (8/24); “Ending Work for Welfare: An Overview” (8/29); “Ending Work for Welfare: Vague, Unverified Universal Engagement” (9/4); “Clinton Defends Obama on Gutting of His Welfare Reform Law” (9/6). [, accessed 9/6/12]

Rector Has Published Six National Review Items About Welfare Reform Since July 12. National Review has published the following items by Robert Rector since July 12: “Obama Ends Welfare Reform As We Know It” (7/12); “Obama’s Attack on ‘Workfare’” (8/8); “HHS Can’t Waive Workfare” (8/9); “Clinton’s Deceptive Defense” (8/9); “Not So Fast, ‘Fact Checkers’” (9/5); “Clinton’s Oratory Misses Truth On Work, Welfare” (9/7). [, accessed 9/10/12]

Rector Wrote Washington Post Column Titled “How Obama Has Gutted Welfare Reform.” On September 6, 2012, the Washington Post published a column titled “How Obama has gutted welfare reform,” in which Robert Rector concludes: “The Obama administration is waiving the federal requirement that ensures a portion of able-bodied TANF recipients must engage in work activities. It is replacing that requirement with a standard that shows that the pre-reform welfare program was successful and the post-reform program a failure. If that is not gutting welfare reform, it is difficult to imagine what would be.” [Washington Post, 9/6/12]

Rector Wrote McClatchy Column Titled “Undermining True Welfare Reform.” On July 24, McClatchy published a column titled “Undermining True Welfare Reform,” in which Robert Rector claims: “The Obama administration has quietly issued new bureaucratic rules that overturned the popular welfare reform law of 1996.” [McClatchy via, 7/26/12]

Background On Welfare Waivers

The 1996 Welfare Reform Law And 2005 Reauthorization: Work Requirements With Little Flexibility For States

1996 Welfare Reform Law Turned Welfare Into A Block Grant Program With Work Requirements And Time Limits. From a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy: “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 established the TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] block grant and a set of rules related to receipt of TANF-related benefits, including work participation requirements, time limits, child support-related requirements, and immigrant-eligibility rules.” [, February 2007]

  • 1996 Law Required Welfare Recipients To Work After Receiving Benefits For Two Years. From a 1996 Administration for Children and Families fact sheet on The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996: “Under the new law, recipients must work after two years on assistance, with few exceptions.” [, September 1996]
  • Single-Parent Welfare Beneficiaries Must Work 20-30 Hours Per Week, Two-Parent Families Must Work 35-55 Hours Per Week. From the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families: “The Deficit Reduction Act retained nearly all of the TANF provisions enacted in the original welfare reform law. For example, the law retained the requirement that 50 percent of all families with an adult participate in the 12 allowable work activities for specified hours each week and that 90 percent of two-parent families similarly participate for certain, specified hours. The hourly work participation requirements that adults must achieve to count in the State’s work participation rates also did not change. This requires a single custodial parent with a child younger than six to participate for at least an average of 20 hours a week and for all others to participate for at least an average of 30 hours a week to count in the overall participation rate. Similarly, two-parent families must participate for at least an average of 35 hours a week (or an average of 55 hours a week if federally- funded child care is provided) to count in the two-parent participation rate.” [, 2/5/08]
  • 1996 Law Listed Categories Of Activities That Count Toward Work Requirements. From a 1996 Administration for Children and Families fact sheet on The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996: “To count toward state work requirements, recipients will be required to participate in unsubsidized or subsidized employment, on-the-job training, work experience, community service, 12 months of vocational training, or provide child care services to individuals who are participating in community service. Up to 6 weeks of job search (no more than 4 consecutive weeks) would count toward the work requirement. However, no more than 20 percent of each state’s caseload may count toward the work requirement solely by participating in vocational training or by being a teen parent in secondary school. Single parents with a child under 6 who cannot find child care cannot be penalized for failure to meet the work requirements. States can exempt from the work requirement single parents with children under age one and disregard these individuals in the calculation of participation rates for up to 12 months.” [, September 1996]
  • After Five Years, Families Are Cut Off From Cash Assistance. From a 1996 Administration for Children and Families fact sheet on The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996: “Families who have received assistance for five cumulative years (or less at state option) will be ineligible for cash aid under the new welfare law. States will be permitted to exempt up to 20 percent of their caseload from the time limit, and states will have the option to provide non-cash assistance and vouchers to families that reach the time limit using Social Services Block Grant or state funds.” [, September 1996]
  • 1996 Law Required Up To 90 Percent Of Families To Participate In Work Activities, But Allowed Reductions If States Reduced Caseload Below 1995 Enrollment. From a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy: “Under the 1996 law, a specified proportion of the families in each state who were receiving assistance in a TANF-funded program had to participate in a set of federally defined work activities for a specified minimum number of hours each month.  Each state had two such work requirements:  one for all families with an adult receiving assistance (the so-called ‘all-families’ rate) and another rate just for two-parent families receiving assistance.  A state that failed to meet one or both rates could be penalized. Starting in 2002, the work requirements were 50 percent for all families and 90 percent for two-parent families.  However, these rates were adjusted downward by a ‘caseload reduction credit’:  each state’s target was reduced one percentage point for each percentage-point decline in the state’s TANF caseload since 1995 that occurred for reasons other than eligibility changes.” [, February 2007]

2005 Reauthorization ‘Substantially Increased’ Number Of Beneficiaries Required To Work And Limited States’ Flexibility. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “After a lengthy and contentious reauthorization process, Congress enacted changes to TANF in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA) that substantially increase the proportion of assistance recipients who must participate in work activities for a specified number of hours each week.  In June 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new regulations that implement these changes and significantly limit states’ flexibility in assigning recipients to work activities.” [, 2/9/07]

  • 2005 Reauthorization Reset Requirement For Up To 90 Percent Work Activity Participation, Using 2005 As A New Baseline. From a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy: “The DRA … modifies the caseload reduction credit so that as of October 1, 2006, adjustments to the work participation rates are based on caseload declines after 2005 rather than 1995.” [, February 2007]
  • 2005 Law Narrowed Definitions Of What Counts Towards Work Activities. From a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy: “The 1996 law sets forth 12 categories of work activities that can count toward the work participation rates.  Neither the law nor subsequent regulations, however, defined what could be considered in each of these 12 categories; there were no federal rules defining ‘community service’ or ‘work experience,’ for example.  The interim final regulations contain definitions for each of these categories. The new definitions are quite narrow — much narrower than the definitions states had developed and used to determine their work participation rate previously. For example, activities designed to address barriers to employment (such as mental health treatment) can count toward the work participation rates only under the category of ‘job readiness activities,’ which are limited to six weeks per year for many states.  The new regulations also prohibit states from counting recipients in bachelor’s degree programs toward the participation rates under the category of ‘vocational educational training.’” [, February 2007]
  • Work Activities Are Limited To Things Like Employment, Job Training, And Some Education. According to a Health and Human Services fact sheet, activities that count as work are limited to:
    • unsubsidized or subsidized employment
    • work experience
    • on-the-job training
    • job search and job readiness assistance – not to exceed 6 weeks in a 12-month period and no more than 4 consecutive weeks (but up to 12 weeks if a State meets certain conditions)
    • community service
    • vocational educational training – not to exceed 12 months
    • job skills training related to work
    • education directly related to employment
    • satisfactory secondary school attendance
    • providing child care services to individuals who are participating in community service. [, April 2009]
  • 2005 Reauthorization Also Put In Place “Significant” Work Activity Monitoring Requirements. From a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Center for Law and Social Policy: “The DRA significantly changed the structure of federal TANF work requirements.  Moreover, the interim final regulations issued by HHS in June 2006 adopted narrow definitions of the work activities that can count toward the work rates and instituted significant new requirements related to state monitoring of recipients’ participation in work activities.”  [, February 2007]

The Waiver Memo: An Offer To Let States Try Out Better Welfare-To-Work Approaches

States Must Apply For Waivers

HHS Issued Memo Informing States They May Apply To Try Out Alternate Activities To Further Welfare Recipients’ Work Preparation. From CNNMoney: “But last month, the Department of Health and Human Services added an option that allows for more flexibility for states that want to test alternate ways of putting families on the path back to employment. Recipients would still have to get jobs or prepare for work, but states can now apply for waivers of the original requirements. The purpose is to better help people get back to gainful employment and off government assistance. The administration said it met with state officials, who said that more flexibility could put more recipients to work.” [, 8/8/12]

In Order For Alternate Activities To Be Approved, They Must Increase Welfare-To-Work Success By 20 Percent. From CNNMoney: “States must guarantee that the proposals will move at least 20% more people from welfare to work, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.” [, 8/8/12]

Waivers Will Shift Focus Of Work Programs To Successful Outcomes, Not Just Participation. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Approved demonstration projects will have an explicit and intentional focus on improving employment outcomes. In its waiver announcement, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that demonstration projects approved will be ‘focused on improving employment outcomes’ for participants.  This is a major step forward.  Under the current structure, states can meet their TANF work participation rate – the only measure of state performance – without recipients finding paying jobs.  These demonstration projects will help to shift the focus of TANF employment programs from process and ‘bean counting’ (whether recipients participate in programs) to outcomes (whether they actually find and keep jobs).” [, 7/13/12, emphasis original]

Waivers May Allow TANF To Better Use Its Resources. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “TANF directors often say that they spend too much time tracking hours of participation and not enough time helping recipients find jobs.  Through waivers, states will be able to develop new and more efficient systems for measuring participation and progress and will be able to target program activities to recipients with the greatest need for assistance in securing and retaining employment.  This is a welcome departure from a system that often spends too much on families that could easily find employment on their own and too little on families that face substantial employment barriers.” [, 7/13/12, emphasis original]

Families With Long-Term Trouble Maintaining Jobs May Need “More Creative And Intensive” Approaches. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Many families that have been unable to secure stable employment face serious barriers.  These range from mental and physical health problems and low cognitive functioning to domestic violence, substance abuse, and unstable housing.  If these families are to engage consistently in welfare-to-work activities and ultimately move toward employment, more creative and intensive approaches tailored to meet their challenges will be needed.” [, 2/9/07, emphasis original]

Welfare Reform And Work Requirements Remain Intact

Waivers Wouldn’t Undo 1996 Work Requirements; They’d Relax Stringent 2005 Modifications. From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Welfare experts frame the change as a slight walk-back from the stringent changes to the work requirements established in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA). The waivers don’t return the program to the level of flexibility between the initial passage of welfare reform and the DRA’s passage, they say, but it moves in that direction. In that way, though, the changes move the law closer to what most people think of as ‘welfare reform.’” [, 7/17/12]

Wonkblog: “The Obama Administration Is Not Removing The Bill’s Work Requirements.” From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “One man’s gutting is, of course, another man’s tweaking, but in this case, the Obama administration is not removing the bill’s work requirements at all. He’s changing them to allow states more flexibility. But the principle that welfare programs must require recipients to move toward employment isn’t going anywhere.” [, 7/17/12]

GOP 1996 Welfare Law Author Haskins: “No Plausible Scenario” In Which Waivers Are “A Serious Attack On Welfare Reform.” From WNYC: “Even a Republican architect of the law, Ron Haskins, told NPR: ‘There’s no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform.’” [, 8/22/12]

  • Haskins “Enthusiastically Supports” Waiver Policy. From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Ron Haskins, one of the reform’s main authors who [Romney campaign policy director Lanhee] Chen cites in his e-mail, agrees with the Romney camp on two counts. One, he insists, the reform has been overwhelmingly successful. […] He also believes the Obama administration should have pursued its waivers with the cooperation of Republicans. […] But Haskins enthusiastically supports the actual policy of the waivers. Waivers are what made welfare reform possible in the first place, he argues, by letting states experiment with new practices and they can be useful going forward. For instance, he thinks they might offer a way around limitations that prevent welfare checks from going to employers to subsidize the hiring of welfare recipients, rather than to the recipients directly. Such combined welfare-work programs, Haskins believes, hold a lot of promise. ‘What this really boils down to is an issue of trust,’ he concludes. ‘Do you trust that the secretary of HHS is only going to grant waivers that really are promising?…Maybe I’m naïve, but I just don’t come to the conclusion that the Democrats would really use the waiver to undermine welfare reform.’ […] In sum, Haskins says, ‘The Republican alarm on welfare reform might be a little exaggerated.’” [, 8/7/12]

Waiver Memo Was A Response To State Complaints – And GOP Governors Like Mitt Romney Have Long Wanted More Flexibility

Waiver Memo Results From State Complaints About Welfare Paperwork And Reporting Requirements. From the New York Times: “What is happening now is a result of a presidential memo in February 2011 that urged executive departments and agencies to ask states for ideas on how to make the federal government more nimble. As the Health and Human Services Department began to solicit suggestions, a handful of states complained about being burdened by the welfare program’s paperwork and reporting requirements.” [New York Times, 7/17/12]

  • Two Out Of Five States Interested In Waivers Have GOP Governors. From the New York Times: “At the state level, the issue does not fall so clearly along party lines. Of the five states that have so far expressed interest in receiving waivers, two of them, Utah and Nevada, have Republican governors. The other states are California, Connecticut and Minnesota, according to the Health and Human Services Department.” [New York Times, 7/17/12]

In 2005, Gov. Romney Asked For More Flexibility In Administering Welfare. From the New York Times: “State support of waivers is not a new phenomenon. In 2005, 29 Republican governors, including Mr. Romney and Mr. Huckabee, asked Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, for more ‘flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively 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 read.” [New York Times, 7/17/12]

Robert Rector’s War To Redefine “Poor”

“Is poverty harmful for childhood? I think not,” says Rector. “Your bank account does not indicate the type of home you have. Welfare is an idiot premise  that if we give people more money they will behave more like middle-class people.”

-Washington Post, 8/9/95

Rector: “Poverty” Isn’t So Bad Because People Have “Modern Amenities”

Rector Report: Most Americans Living “In Poverty” Are Not Actually “Poor” Because They Have Air Conditioning And “Other Modern Amenities.” In 2011, Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield co-authored a Heritage Foundation report titled, “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States today?” According to the report: “For decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported that over 30 million Americans were living in ‘poverty,’ but the bureau’s definition of poverty differs widely from that held by most Americans. In fact, other government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as ‘in poverty’ are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority within the overall poverty population.” [, 7/19/11]

  • “But What Does It Mean To Be ‘Poor’ In America?” According to Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield: “In recent years, the Census has reported that one in seven Americans are poor. But what does it mean to be ‘poor’ in America? How poor are America’s poor?” [, 7/19/11]
  • “Relatively Few” Americans Who Live “In Poverty” Experience “Material Hardship.”  According to Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield: “Yet if poverty means lacking nutritious food, adequate warm housing, and clothing for a family, relatively few of the more than 30 million people identified as being ‘in poverty’ by the Census Bureau could be characterized as poor. While material hardship definitely exists in the United States, it is restricted in scope and severity. The average poor person, as defined by the government, has a living standard far higher than the public imagines.” [, 7/19/11]

Rector Report Shows Percentage Of “Poor” Households With Microwaves, Cell Phones, Video Games, Etc. The following image from Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield’s July 2011 report on U.S. poverty shows the “Percentage of Poor U.S. Households Which Have Various Amenities”:


[, 7/19/11]

Rector Concludes That “Typical” Poor Families Have Many “Household Conveniences.” According to Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield: “In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, a clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker. The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. The family was able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs. Poor families clearly struggle to make ends meet, but in most cases, they are struggling to pay for air conditioning and cable TV while putting food on the table.” [, 7/19/11]

Rector Has Been Downplaying The Hardship Of Poverty For More Than 20 Years

1990 Rector Report: Poor Not Really Poor Because Many Own Cars And “Nearly Half” Have Air Conditioning. According to a Heritage Foundation brief on Robert Rector’s 1990 report on poverty data: “The trouble is that the Census data overstate the number of persons in poverty and understate the living standards of low-income Americans. The Census Bureau’s data seriously mislead policy makers and American taxpayers, who are spending about $180 billion a year to fight ‘poverty,’ because it tells little about the real poverty in America. Missing from yesterday’s report are the facts that: * 38 percent of the persons whom the Census Bureau identifies as ‘poor’ own their own homes with a median value of $39,200; * Over 100,000 ‘poor’ persons own homes with a value in excess of $200,000; * 62 percent of ‘poor’ households own a car; 14 percent own two or more cars; * Nearly half of all ‘poor’ households have air-conditioning; * 31 percent of all ‘poor’ households have microwave ovens; * Nationwide, over 22,000 ‘poor’ households have heated swimming pools or hot tubs.” [Heritage Foundation Reports via Nexis, 9/27/90]

  • Cato Institute Exposed Faulty Methodology Behind Rector Claim About Hot Tubs. According to the January/February 1995 edition of Cato Policy Report: “For example, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation wrote that 22,000 Americans below the poverty line had hot tubs, and many conservative publications uncritically trumpeted the figure. But Rector’s figure was ‘extrapolated’ from one case in a survey sample. It’s disingenuous to claim that because one poor family in a sample of 10,000 has a hot tub, 22,000 poor families have hot tubs.” [Cato Policy Report, January/February 1995]

1991: Rector Said “The Poor Are Not Hungry” Because They Are “More Likely To Be Overweight Than Are Middle-Class Persons.” According to The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “However, conservative policy analyst Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation said there are ‘far fewer persons in material poverty’ than the Census Bureau indicates. Most poor households have a car, nearly half have air conditioning, and nearly one-third have microwave ovens, he said. The official count excludes the homeless and those living in nursing homes, shelters or other institutions. In the United States, Mr. Rector said, ‘The poor are not hungry and undernourished. In fact, adults are more likely to be overweight than are middle-class persons.'” [The Atlanta Journal and Constitution via Nexis, 9/27/91]

1993: Rector Bemoaned “Deliberate Political Effort To Exaggerate The Amount Of Poverty…In Order To Promote Additional Welfare Spending.” According to Daily Report Card: “Analysts from both ends of the political spectrum offered analysis. Clifford Johnson, policy director at the Children’s Defense Fund: ‘We have gotten richer as a nation, but the benefits of that growing wealth have been all but invisible to a growing number of our families.’ The CDF noted that 21.9%, or 14.6 million, children lived in poverty in 1992, making it the fourth straight year to see a rise in the child poverty rate. But The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector said that the report is ‘a deliberate political effort to exaggerate the amount of poverty in the United States in order to promote additional welfare spending.'” [Daily Report Card via Nexis, 10/5/93]

1995: “Is Poverty Harmful For Childhood? I Think Not.” From a Washington Post column by reporter Megan Rosenfeld: “‘Is poverty harmful for childhood? I think not,’ says Rector. ‘Your bank account does not indicate the type of home you have. Welfare is an idiot premise — that if we give people more money they will behave more like middle-class people.'” [Washington Post via Nexis, 8/9/95]

Rector Used Selective Data For Argument That U.S. Poor Are Better Off Than Average Europeans. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR): “Rector has claimed that ‘poor Americans live in larger houses or apartments’ than ‘the general population in Western Europe.’ Presumably as evidence of this assertion, he included in this year’s report a chart titled ‘International Comparison of Living Space.’ However, what the chart actually compares is the average floor space per person in certain European cities, such as Paris and Athens, with the average floor space in all poor U.S. households–22 percent of whom live in rural areas and 33 percent of whom live in suburbs. (Even with such an egregious bias, his numbers are underwhelming: The mostly rural and suburban homes of the U.S. poor are only about one-fourth larger than the average home in notoriously crowded Paris.)” [FAIR, January/February 1999, emphasis added]

Rector: Majority Of Poor Are Overweight, So “The Idea Of What We Need To Do Is Give Them More Food Is Just Kind Of Silly.” According to McClatchy: “Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., said the government’s quest to get more people on food stamps is not helping the poor. ‘The majority of them are overweight, and the idea of what we need to do is give them more food is just kind of silly,’ Rector said. His research has led him to believe that the food needs of America’s low-income population are often exaggerated. He wrote that poor children eat more meat than richer kids. ‘Most poor children in America today are, in fact, super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II,’ he wrote. But food prices have spiked recently, and wages have been sagging for decades. Agriculture Department economist Ephraim Leibtag said food prices are up 6.1% this month over last September, the steepest increase in almost 20 years. The cost of groceries has increased by a third in a decade. ‘If you’re buying the basics, you’re just getting by,’ he said.” [McClatchy via Nexis, 10/4/08]

Robert Rector: Abstinence-Only Pioneer

“The next step of the debate in my mind is to recognize that we don’t just have a problem with teen sexuality; we have a problem with young adult sexuality,” he says. “Almost all unmarried people in their 20s are sexually active…”

-Los Angeles Times, 8/10/99

Rector Worked To Insert Abstinence Education In Welfare Reform

Rector Is The “Architect Of The Abstinence-Only Movement.” From the Los Angeles Times: “If there is an architect of the abstinence-only movement, it would be a rumpled and graying 47-year-old lobbyist named Robert Rector.” [Los Angeles Times via Nexis, 8/10/99]

Rector Partnered With FRC And Christian Coalition To Engineer Abstinence-Only Provisions In Welfare Reform Act That Kept Funds From Comprehensive Sex Education. From the Los Angeles Times: “When Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) approached Rector to help draft the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act, the policy analyst suggested the bill set aside funds to teach that sex outside marriage is wrong. ‘We were looking for programs helping children practice self-control when they’re minors,’ Rector says, ‘but also helping them understand the role of self-control in marriage in their adult lives. This is really not an issue solely about what teenagers are doing in the back seats of cars. It’s an issue about the breakdown of adult relationships between men and women.’ Led by Rector, representatives from the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, a Washington-based family values advocacy group and others worked for months to draft tightly worded language that would prevent liberal-minded administrators from using potential funds for comprehensive sex education programs.” [Los Angeles Times via Nexis, 8/10/99]

Abstinence Provisions Directed Funding To Programs That Taught Sex Outside Of Marriage Will Have “Harmful Physical And Psychological Effects.” From the Los Angeles Times: “The measure said programs can receive money only if they teach the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by refraining from sexual activity; that abstinence is the expected standard for all school-age children; that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity; and that sexual activity outside marriage is likely to have ‘harmful physical and psychological effects.’ Funds cannot be used to endorse birth control. Tucked into the miscellaneous Title IX of the welfare legislation, the item escaped the scrutiny of sex education lobbyists, who were surprised to see the proposal appear from the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee.” [Los Angeles Times via Nexis, 8/10/99]

Rector’s Abstinence Provisions Came With $50 Million In Funding. From the New York Times: “Shoring up marriage was Robert Rector’s vision a decade ago. A fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Rector wrote the first bill that legally defined abstinence education, and got it attached as a stowaway to the 1996 welfare overhaul, backed with $50 million for the states. A later Congress, irked at states’ finding loopholes in the original intent, designated a second pool of abstinence money in 2001, now the lifeblood of the movement.” [New York Times via Nexis, 7/18/07]

For Rector, Abstinence Education Is A Question Of Values, Not Public Health

Rector: Seeing Abstinence As A Public Health Issue Is A Distraction. From the Record Searchlight: “Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation argues that viewing abstinence as a public health issue distracts from the real concern: that casual sex is toxic to marriage and increases the inclination to abort an unwanted child.” [Record Searchlight via Nexis, 8/4/07]

Rector: Whether Or Not Sex Ed Programs Work Is A “Bogus Issue.” From the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States: “After years of delay in its release, a federally supported evaluation of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs funded under the 1996 federal welfare reform law has proven the programs ineffective in changing teens’ sexual behavior. […] On a call yesterday organized by the Abstinence Clearinghouse, abstinence-only proponents were clearly rocked by the potentially ruinous news in the report.  High profile abstinence-only advocate, Robert Rector, led the preemptive damage-control planning.  He outlined several strategies the abstinence-only movement could use to rationalize the findings in the report saying, ‘The other spin I think is very important is not [program] effectiveness, but rather the values that are being taught,’ Rector said.  Whether or not these programs work is a ‘bogus issue,’ Rector continued.” [, April 2007]

  • Slate: Rector’s Paper Misrepresented Study To Make Case For Abstinence-Only. From Slate: “In March, the Journal of Adolescent Health published a paper by sociologists Hannah Brückner and Peter Bearman, which found that adolescents who pledged to remain virgins until marriage had STD infection rates as young adults that were statistically indistinguishable from those of nonpledgers. Last month, Robert Rector and Kirk Johnson of the Heritage Foundation delivered two conference papers and a press release that accused Yale’s Brückner and Columbia’s Bearman of reaching an inaccurate conclusion that misled the press and public. […] Rector and Johnson claim their analysis is the more thorough one because Bearman and Brückner used only one STD measure (the presence of three STD’s in urine samples), while the present paper analyzes five STD measures based on urine samples, STD diagnoses, and STD symptoms. But Rector and Johnson’s four new measures, all of which yield favorable results for pledgers with p-values less than 0.05, rely on subjects’ self-reports. That adolescents who took virginity pledges might be less likely to report STD symptoms is a possibility Rector and Johnson don’t seem to consider; but they should. When it comes to sex, people often lie. Urine samples don’t. Worse still is the just-plain-wrong claim that Brückner and Bearman use only one STD measure. They use two: the gonorrhea-chlamydia-trichomoniasis test cited above and a urine test for human papilloma virus. In Rector and Johnson’s paper, the HPV test has disappeared. It’s hard for me to see any reason but the obvious one: The HPV test also showed no statistically significant difference—but pledgers scored a little higher than nonpledgers.” [, 7/7/05]

Rector: Comprehensive Sex Ed ‘Normalizes Teen Sexual Activity’ And ‘Contains Very Explicit Sexual Material.’ From the New York Times: “‘Over 90 percent of parents want kids to be taught to abstain until they at least finish high school, and the comprehensive education curricula don’t do that — they pretty much normalize teen sexual activity,’ said Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative research group. ‘They contain very explicit sexual material.’” [New York Times via Nexis, 5/11/10]

Rector: Safe Sex Programs “Scoff At Abstinence While Accepting And Condoning Casual Teen Sexual Activity.” From a statement by Robert Rector: “By contrast, comprehensive sex education or abstinence plus programs do not encourage youth to delay sexual activity. Instead, these programs pervasively teach that it is OK for teens to be sexually active as long as they use condoms. Virtually no parents approve of this message. The debate about sex education is a debate about fundamental values, although the comprehensive sex education lobby obscures this fact. Abstinence education programs are one of the few small voices in our society opposing the tidal wave of sexual promiscuity promoted to youth through media and popular culture. Unfortunately, it is likely there will be a strong effort in this Congress to eliminate abstinence education and replace it with comprehensive ‘safe sex’ programs that scoff at abstinence while accepting and condoning casual teen sexual activity. Ending abstinence education would be a great disservice to America’s youth.” [Rector Statement via, 4/13/07]

Rector Compared Educating Teens About Sex To ‘Empowering [Them] To Make Their Own Choices About Whether To Do Drugs Or Drop Out Of School.’ From Teen Vogue: “Critics of these programs worry that teenagers, if they choose to become sexually active, won’t know how to protect themselves. According to a U.S. congressional staff analysis, many programs even contain false or misleading information, teaching that abortions cause suicide and sterility, or that half of all gay male teens have the HIV virus, or that touching someone’s genitals can lead to pregnancy. ‘Providing students with a complete set of accurate facts empowers them to make their own decisions,’ says James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, an organization that promotes comprehensive sex ed. ‘Young people can be part of the solution they’re not just hormonal accidents waiting to happen.’ To this, Robert Rector, a leading supporter of abstinence-only education, counters, ‘Should teenagers be empowered to make their own choices about whether to do drugs or drop out of school?’” [Teen Vogue via Nexis, December 2006]

Rector Misused Focus On The Family-Commissioned Poll To Claim Most Parents Support Abstinence-Only Education. From the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States: “In April, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation wrote a piece for The Washington Times (“War Against Abstinence,” April 19, 2005) in which he launched a desperate attack on comprehensive sexuality education, a new bi-partisan amendment proposed by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), and health and education organizations, including SIECUS. Rector’s piece presented ideological fiction in an effort to misinform readers and advance his own far right agenda. SIECUS’ response to this piece was published in the April 24, 2005 issue of The Washington Times Sunday Forum. Rector started his attack by incorrectly citing a Zogby poll of parents and young people as supporting a strict abstinence-only-until-marriage approach. In fact, this poll suggests that over 75% of parents want schools to teach about both abstinence and contraception. Although commissioned by the conservative organization Focus on the Family, this poll echoes what virtually every national, state, and local survey has found; parents want their children to receive comprehensive information about sexual health.” [Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States via Nexis, 6/22/05]

Rector: Problem Is Not Just Teen Sexuality But Also Unmarried People In Their 20s. From the Los Angeles Times: “Meanwhile, Robert Rector is looking to expand abstinence education. ‘The next step of the debate in my mind is to recognize that we don’t just have a problem with teen sexuality; we have a problem with young adult sexuality,’ he says. ‘Almost all unmarried people in their 20s are sexually active, and a lot of this behavior is not moving toward stable relationships. That’s a very serious thing.’” [Los Angeles Times via Nexis, 8/10/99]

Rector’s Work Supported By The Richard And Helen DeVos Foundation

Robert Rector Is Senior Research Fellow At Heritage’s DeVos Center For Religion And Civil Society. According to the Heritage Foundation’s website, Robert Rector is a senior research fellow for the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society and the Domestic Policy Studies department. [, accessed 9/10/12]

  • Rector’s ‘Gutting Welfare Reform’ Collaborator Is Research Fellow At Heritage’s DeVos Center. According to the Heritage Foundation’s website, Katherine “Kiki” Bradley, who co-authored the “Obama Guts Welfare Reform” blog post cited in the Romney campaign’s ad, is a research fellow at the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.” [, accessed 9/10/12]
  • Rector’s ‘What Is Poverty?’ Collaborator Is A Research Associate At Heritage’s DeVos Center. According to the Heritage Foundation’s website, Rachel Sheffield, who co-authored Rector’s 2011 report on poverty in America, is a research associate at the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.” [, accessed 9/10/12]

DeVos Family Are Major Players In Conservative Politics

Forbes: “Few Billionaires Have A More Established Place In Conservative America Than The DeVos Clan.” From Forbes: “Other than possibly the Koch brothers, few billionaires have a more established place in conservative America than the DeVos clan. Richard M. DeVos, co-founder of Amway and owner of the Orlando Magic, is No. 60 on the Forbes 400. He and his wife are regular donors to the Republican Party. The couple’s foundation gives out millions each year, focusing on Christian and conservative organizations such as Focus on the Family and the American Enterprise Institute. At a gathering in Vail last June, Charles Koch thanked DeVos as one of the contributors who had given more than $1 million to the conservative cause.” [Forbes, 12/26/11]

Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation Has Given Over $10 Million To The Heritage Foundation. According to data from the DeVos Foundation’s 990 forms, it has given at least $10,300,000 to the Heritage Foundation between 1998 and 2010. [Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation IRS Form 990-PF 1998-2010 via Conservative Transparency Database]

  • Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center For Religion And Civil Society Promotes “The Indispensable Role Of Family And Religion In Our American Order.” According to the Heritage Foundation’s website: “The Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society examines the role that religion, family, and community plan [sic] in society and public policy. America’s Founders understood that the family is part of the foundation of a free society, and that religious liberty is the first freedom and an important guarantor of a just society. Today more than ever, these critical institutions need to be strengthened and protected at the level of both principle and policy. Thanks to a grant from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation of Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Heritage Foundation in 2004 established the DeVos Center as a way to improve public discourse on these issues and to integrate serious reflection on the role of family, religion, and civil society across policy areas. The Heritage Foundation’s approach to family and religion emphasizes these permanent institutions’ role in sustaining freedom and the common good. We seek to convey the indispensable role of family and religion in our American order and in our conservative philosophy. Building on the significant research compiled in recent years, the DeVos Center endeavors to shape a healthy discourse that appreciates the historic and continuing significance of religion and moral virtue in American life. We work closely with all Heritage research departments to apply these principles to policy issues from economics to health care to foreign policy.” [, accessed 9/10/12]

Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation Awarded Over $50 Million In Grants In 2010.  In 2010, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation awarded grants totaling $52,596,202. In addition to the Heritage Foundation ($3 million), notable conservative recipients included Young America’s Foundation ($2 million), Media Research Center ($1 million), Focus on the Family ($400,000), and FreedomWorks Foundation ($250,000). [Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation IRS Form 990-PF, 2010]

DeVos Family Members Are Deeply Involved With The Republican Party And Conservative Causes. According to Forbes: “Other members of the DeVos family share their patriarch’s political leanings. Son Dick DeVos was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Michigan governor in 2006. Daughter-in-law Betsy DeVos chaired the Michigan Republican Party and now heads the Alliance for School Choice. Betsy DeVos is the daughter of Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, who contributed $450,000 toward the 2008 effort to ban same-sex marriages in California. Her brother is Erik Prince, founder of the controversial security firm, Blackwater.” [Forbes, 12/26/11]

  • Dick DeVos’ Gubernatorial Platform Included Time Limit On Welfare Benefits. According to the Associated Press: “In late June, DeVos put out a 65-page action plan he said would turn around the state’s economy. It called for repealing the state’s main business tax, cutting off welfare benefits after four years, ending Granholm’s Cool Cities program that gives grants for urban improvements and offering merit pay for teachers.” [Associated Press via Nexis, 11/8/06]