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CO: Which way on welfare reform? Colorado officials aren’t saying

By   /   September 28, 2012  /   No Comments

Bicha: No opinion on welfare reform

By Dan Njegomir | Colorado Watchdog

The presidential hopefuls are battling over the flammable issue of welfare reform, but Colorado officials, charged with administering benefits payments, have no opinion.

Not yet, anyhow.

A recent email to the Colorado Department of Human Services, requesting an interview on the issue with department Director Reggie Bicha, elicited this reply from spokeswoman Liz McDonough:

“We are currently in an exploratory process on the waiver and no decision has been (made) so an interview with Reggie would be premature at this time.”

On the presidential campaign trail, the Obama administration’s move in July to let states waive the welfare-to-work requirements of the nation’s groundbreaking 1996 welfare reform has provided plenty of grist. GOP nominee Mitt Romney has been lambasting the administration for the policy shift, in part because he, congressional Republicans and others contend those rules cannot be changed without congressional approval.

The development also has spawned several spinoff debates, not only over whether the president is philosophically opposed to making welfare recipients work, but also over whether Romney is fairly characterizing the administration’s action to begin with.

For its part, the administration insists it only is lifting bureaucratic barriers to states seeking to put even more welfare recipients to work; the Romney campaign and critics like the Wall Street Journal editorial page say the ’96 law never restricted states from increasing the work requirement in the first place.

Alongside the brouhaha, though, is the question of whether states like Colorado actually intend to apply for waivers under the administration’s new rule. Have state governments — which administer federally funded welfare — felt constrained by the 16-year-old law from developing innovations that would help recipients find work more effectively? And if not, what motivated the administration’s action?

Put another way, from a state’s perspective, is the Romney campaign making a mountain out of a molehill—or did the Obama administration attempt to fix what wasn’t broken?

Meantime, the Department of Human Services says nothing. A follow-up email request to our earlier request for comment drew this response from McDonough yesterday: “No change at this time. Thanks.”

OK, we’ll quit bugging them, for now, at least. But we’ll keep watching. With any luck, Colorado’s human services department will arrive at a decision before Election Day—and maybe add some clarity to the presidential debate over this issue.

Contact Dan Njegomir at [email protected]