By Elise Viebeck - 07/13/12 09:36 PM EDT
Republicans came out strongly against a quiet policy change by the Obama administration that could change how states administer welfare.
Under the new policy, federal waivers would allow states to test new approaches to improving employment among low-income families. In exchange, states would have to prove that their new methods are effective, or lose the waivers.
Republicans blasted the change as "gutting" work requirements in the landmark 1996 welfare-to-work law known as TANF.
Federal health officials noted that the new policy comes in response to requests from states — both Republican and Democrat — for more flexibility under TANF's bureaucracy.
"This new flexibility will strengthen welfare reform rules and the effectiveness of state efforts to connect families with work," wrote George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, in a blog post. "Waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved."
But Republicans argue that the change will foster dependency on the government, violating the principle behind TANF.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) called the new policy a "brazen and unwarranted unraveling of welfare reform."
Under TANF, he said in a statement, "states helped record numbers of low-income parents go to work, earnings soared, and dependence on welfare and poverty plunged by record levels."
"This ends welfare reform as we know it," he added.
The Ways and Means Committee's ranking member, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), argued that Republicans' stance is hypocritical.
"It turns out that Republican support for state flexibility is a one-way street — they support flexibility when it comes to reducing assistance for needy Americans looking for work, but they oppose giving states greater discretion in helping people find work," he said in a statement.
Waiver applications will be available to the public, as will states' benchmarks for progress, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.