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Rolly: It's time for policy reform, not politics
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During the crazy political season that now, thankfully, has ended, any action, any proposal, any comment by a presidential candidate, would be twisted, compacted, pureed and contorted in any way possible by that candidate's opponents for political advantage, with a desire for good policy not even an afterthought.

For several weeks, we heard from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his supporters in Congress and right-wing media that President Obama was catering to the lazy and entitled, as Romney defined his "47 percent," by trying to eliminate the work requirement in welfare.

The current law, agreed to by Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress in the 1990s, contains stringent federal requirements that those on welfare assistance make a continuous effort to complete an employment education program or actively seek employment.

Their welfare benefits have a time limit associated with their efforts to find work.

But when Obama's secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, issued a memo suggesting that states could apply for waivers from stringent federal requirements to assure welfare recipients are moving toward work, the political spin machines went wild.

Republicans charged that the administration was ignoring congressional intent with an executive order changing the law. They contended that the administration is trying to eliminate or severely water down the work requirement for states to qualify for federal grants to administer the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The administration pointed out that several governors over the years, including Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, have asked that waivers be allowed for states that can show they can fulfill the welfare to work requirement without being bogged down by federal bureaucratic paperwork.

They also noted that requests by five states, including Utah, are currently being considered for the waivers.

But the Democratic apologists ignore the fact that the welfare-to-work requirement was an act of Congress, so the criticism that it was turning a legislative action into an executive function had legitimacy.

What was lost in all this was that the move toward waivers, with the requirement the states improve their efforts to get recipients into the workforce, was good policy and would save states money.

In Utah's case, the state has a large refugee population and has developed ground-floor programs that combine English-speaking education with job skill development.

But current federal guidelines make flexibility in administering programs to fit specific needs nearly impossible.

And every part of the program must be documented for the feds to ensure all the rules are followed.

About 7,200 Utahns are on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program now.

Those who have a high school diploma are required to be looking for a job 40 hours a week and the state bureaucrats administering the program must prove they are doing that with exhaustive paperwork for the feds.

Those without a high school diploma or GED must document every aspect of every program they are in to develop job skills.

The result of those strict federal requirements is that of the more than 60 programs administered by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, TANF requires 25 percent of the staff time for the entire department — even though the number of clients on the program is infinitesimal compared to the nearly 200,000 departmental caseload.

So Utah would like a chance to fit the program to the state's needs and still make sure recipients are following a path to work.

But that doesn't fit into the political talking points required for being a good political foot soldier, now, does it? —

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