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WORK Act Would Give Low-Income Moms The Same Option As Ann Romney (For 3 Years)

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WASHINGTON -- A handful of House Democrats, encouraged by the recent bipartisan agreement that stay-at-home moms should be considered just as hard working as anyone in the workforce, will introduce legislation to apply that standard to mothers on welfare as well.

Under current law, raising children does not count toward the required "work activity" that must be performed by recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the federal program that emerged from the 1996 welfare reform. Some states make an exception for mothers with children less than a year old.

The Women's Option to Raise Kids (WORK) Act, a copy of which was provided to HuffPost in advance of its introduction, would allow mothers with children ages 3 and under to stay at home with their children and continue receiving benefits.

The act was inspired by the recent kerfuffle, in which the political establishment, from President Barack Obama to Mitt Romney, took great umbrage at the suggestion by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen that Ann Romney had not "worked a day in her life."

"All moms are working moms," Mitt Romney responded.

If that's the case, then it's unfair to apply a different standard to low-income women, reasoned Rep. Pete Stark of California, a top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

"Mitt Romney was for forcing mothers into the workforce before he decided that 'all moms are working moms,'" Stark told The Huffington Post. "I think we should take Mr. Romney at his most recent word and change our federal laws to recognize the importance and legitimacy of raising young children. That's why I'm introducing the WORK Act to provide low-income parents the option of staying home to raise young children without fear of being pushed into poverty."

The proposed WORK Act wouldn't exactly even the playing field: Whereas wealthy women such as Ann Romney would still have the option to stay at home until their children grew up, poor women would be sent back into the workforce when a child turned four.

The 1994 Senate-candidate Romney supported that basic idea. "Once there are no preschoolers at home, parents should work to receive welfare support," he wrote then. "A child needs to see firsthand the dignity of work."

But when Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002, his attitude toward mothers with very young children changed.

"I wanted to increase the work requirement," said Romney in January 2012, recalling his efforts at reforming Massachusetts' welfare program (see video above). "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 day care, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.'"

Democratic Reps. John Lewis (Ga.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) are cosponsors of the WORK Act.

This story has been updated to reflect a change in the bill's title. It is the Women's Option to Raise Kids Act.

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