08/17/2012 05:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Scott Walker Objects To Welfare Reform Waivers In Letter To HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (UPDATE)

WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) jumped into the fight over welfare reform on Friday, backing up Mitt Romney's attacks on the Obama administration's new waiver policy.

Welfare, formally known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, is administered by states within federal rules. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services invited states to apply for waivers from some rules in order to develop innovative ways to help individuals meet the law's work requirements.

Even though these sorts of changes were requested by Republican governors -- including Romney himself, when he was serving as governor of Massachusetts -- the Romney campaign has accused President Barack Obama of "a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements."

On Friday, Walker wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, backing up the Romney campaign's concerns:

As you know, Wisconsin has been a leader in welfare reform for decades, emphasizing the fundamentals of work and personal responsibility. Wisconsin is a strong supporter of allowing waivers to encourage innovation and give states the flexibility to design tomorrow's programs without being hampered by yesterday's rules. However, we believe the Information Memorandum issued last month by the Administration for Children and Families falls outside the legal authority of HHS, undermines efforts to engage parents in productive work activities, and raises serious concerns about your Department's commitment to moving low-income families from welfare to work. Waiving the work participation requirement leaves the TANF program with no mandated requirements for individuals to participate in any activities to help move themselves towards permanent unsubsidized employment. We urge you to reconsider this approach.

He added that now is the "wrong time" for the administration to "send a message to those on public assistance that work is not important."

"Government officials should be encouraging people to go to work, not retreat from it," he wrote.

Walker is a strong supporter of Romney, and of course, Ryan, who represents his home state.

There's no evidence that the Obama administration is "[w]aiving the work participation requirement" as Walker states in his letter.

Ron Haskins, a former Republican congressional aide who was key to crafting welfare reform in the 1990s, has called out the Romney attacks as completely false.

"There's no plausible scenario under which it really constitutes a serious attack on welfare reform," Haskins, who is now co-director of the Brookings Institution's Center on Children and Families, said in an interview with NPR.

He also noted that the requirements states have to meet in order to receive the waivers are quite rigorous.

"First of all, the states have to apply individually for waivers," he said. "And they have to explain in detail, sometimes using data, why this approach would lead to either more employment or better jobs for people who are trying to welfare or get off welfare."

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom the Romney campaign has used as a surrogate on this issue, has had to admit that there's no evidence the Obama administration dropped work requirements from the nation's welfare law.

"We have no proof today, but I would say to you under Obama’s ideology it is absolutely true that he would be comfortable sending a lot of people checks for doing nothing," Gingrich told CNN's Anderson Cooper in a recent interview. "I believe that totally."

UPDATE: 9:56 p.m. -- Sebelius responded to Walker in a letter on Friday, writing that "nothing in our policy will weaken the work requirements in the welfare law. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services is providing a limited waiver opportunity for states that develop a plan to increase the number of recipients who find and hold down a job."

Sebelius pointed out that Walker and other governors who are "satisfied with the status quo are under no obligation to propose new innovations that will help more Americans find a job."

Read Walker's letter: