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Mitt Romney: Mothers Should Be Required To Work Outside Home Or Lose Benefits

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WASHINGTON -- Poor women who stay at home to raise their children should be given federal assistance for child care so that they can enter the job market and "have the dignity of work," Mitt Romney said in January, undercutting the sense of extreme umbrage he showed when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen quipped last week that Ann Romney had not "worked a day in her life."

The remark, made to a Manchester, N.H., audience, was unearthed by MSNBC's "Up w/Chris Hayes," and aired during the 8 a.m. hour of his show Sunday.

Ann Romney and her husband's campaign fired back hard at Rosen following her remark. "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work," Romney said on Twitter.

On Sunday, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg told The Huffington Post in an email, "Moving welfare recipients into work was one of the basic principles of the bipartisan welfare reform legislation that President Clinton signed into law. The sad fact is that under President Obama the poverty rate among women rose to 14.5 percent in 2011, the highest rate in 17 years. The Obama administration's economic policies have been devastating to women and families."

Mitt Romney, however, judging by his January remark, views stay-at-home moms who are supported by federal assistance much differently than those backed by hundreds of millions in private equity income. Poor women, he said, shouldn't be given a choice, but instead should be required to work outside the home to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. "[E]ven if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work," Romney said of moms on TANF.

Recalling his effort as governor to increase the amount of time women on welfare in Massachusetts were required to work, Romney noted that some had considered his proposal "heartless," but he argued that the women would be better off having "the dignity of work" -- a suggestion Ann Romney would likely take issue with.

"I wanted to increase the work requirement," said Romney. "I said, for instance, that even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, 'Well that's heartless.' And I said, 'No, no, I'm willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It'll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.'"

Regardless of its level of dignity, for Ann Romney, her work raising her children would not have fulfilled her work requirement had she been on TANF benefits. As HuffPost reported Thursday:

As far as Uncle Sam is concerned, if you're poor, deciding to stay at home and rear your children is not an option. Thanks to welfare reform, recipients of federal benefits must prove to a caseworker that they have performed, over the course of a week, a certain number of hours of "work activity." That number changes from state to state, and each state has discretion as to how narrowly work is defined, but federal law lists 12 broad categories that are covered.

Raising children is not among them.

According to a 2006 Congressional Research Service report, the dozen activities that fulfill the work requirement are:

(1) unsubsidized employment
(2) subsidized private sector employment
(3) subsidized public sector employment
(4) work experience
(5) on-the-job training
(6) job search and job readiness assistance
(7) community services programs
(8) vocational educational training
(9) job skills training directly related to employment
(10) education directly related to employment (for those without a high school degree or equivalent)
(11) satisfactory attendance at a secondary school
(12) provision of child care to a participant of a community service program

The only child-care related activity on the list is the last one, which would allow someone to care for someone else's child if that person were off volunteering. But it does not apply to married couples in some states. Connecticut, for instance, specifically prevents counting as "work" an instance in which one parent watches a child while the other parent volunteers.

The federal government does at least implicitly acknowledge the value of child care, though not for married couples. According to a 2012 Urban Institute study, a single mother is required to work 30 hours a week, but the requirement drops to 20 hours if she has a child under 6. A married woman, such as Romney, would not be entitled to such a reduction in the requirement. If a married couple receives federally funded child care, the work requirement increases by 20 hours, from 35 hours to 55 hours between the two of them, another implicit acknowledgment of the value of stay-at-home work.

Romney's January view echoes a remark he made in 1994 during his failed Senate campaign. "This is a different world than it was in the 1960s when I was growing up, when you used to have Mom at home and Dad at work," Romney said, as shown in a video posted by BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski. "Now Mom and Dad both have to work whether they want to or not, and usually one of them has two jobs."

This article has been updated to reflect comment from the Romney campaign.

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