Bipartisan concern in Hawaii over federal waiver

 UPDATED 7:39 AM HST Sep 27, 2012
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HONOLULU -

A White House waiver issued in July would allow states to develop their own welfare-to-work programs under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, or TANF. The current rules were developed under welfare reform legislation passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

KITV4 has learned Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration is considering whether to accept the waiver, with a decision expected by the Department of Human Services (DHS) as soon as November.

“The DHS is currently considering a waiver request for the TANF program, but nothing has been submitted at this time,” DHS spokesperson Kayla Rosenfeld, said in an email.

Under current rules, certain TANF recipients are required to meet a 30-hour per week work schedule, either through employment, job training or community service. Nine core activities can be used to meet work requirements, and three supplemental activities, job skills training and education directly related to employment, and completion of a secondary school program.

Although Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have traded heated barbs about what the federal waiver means, there is bipartisan concern in Hawaii that changing welfare-to-work rules could threaten 16 years of progress.

“We do want to help people that need help to get back on their feet again. No doubt about it; I'm really forward in doing that,” said David S. Chang, chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party. “But, we also want to encourage them to go out and find jobs as well.”

Rep. John Mizuno, a Democrat who chairs the Human Services Committee, shares Chang’s concerns about what the federal waiver could mean for Hawaii’s successful TANF program.

“The better we are at getting our people self-sufficient (and) less reliant on government, the stronger our community will be (and) the better it will be for all our businesses in the state,” said Mizuno. “It was a landmark policy, and it has provided great self-sufficiency for those that are on the welfare rolls.”

When asked last week whether Hawaii would accept the federal waiver, Abercrombie told KITV4 it would strengthen, not weaken, welfare-to-work rules.

“You have to decide. Are we going to invest in one another (and) take the dollars that we have, and see to it that we create a positive condition for people so that they become taxpayers instead of tax takers,” said the governor.

Still, Rep, Mizuno is uneasy enough about the possibility of changing welfare-to-work rules that he may convene a legislative briefing.

“This is not a done deal yet, and many times a legislative briefing will do wonders for policy,” said Mizuno, “So it will be on tap.”

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