Sandoval: Nevada didn't ask for waiver on welfare program

CARSON CITY - The Sandoval administration denied statements from the White House that Nevada has sought a waiver from the federal requirement that welfare recipients seek jobs as a condition of securing assistance.

"The Obama Administration's attempt to portray Nevada's comments as anything more than an attempt to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for our (welfare) programs is a gross mischaracterization to advance its own agenda," said Mary-Sarah Kinner, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

But Jay Carney, press secretary to President Barack Obama, told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that Sandoval and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert "specifically requested" waivers from the 1996 Welfare Reform Law work requirement. Then Tuesday night, former President Bill Clinton issued a statement that Obama's new welfare waiver policy "was originally requested by the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada."

Carney and Clinton made their statements in response to a new campaign attack ad by Mitt Romney that accuses Obama of quietly gutting the work requirements that were a centerpiece of the welfare reform law passed during the Clinton administration.

In July, the Obama administration announced that states can seek waivers from work portions of that law, but Carney told reporters any changes must be designed to put at least 20 percent more welfare recipients back to work.

Speaking for Sandoval, Kinner said Nevada has never sought a waiver from the work requirements "despite repeated solicitations by the administration to seek a waiver." She added that Nevada's Department of Health and Human Services "has consistently notified the administration that Nevada has no intention of requesting one."

But Carney said in a statement Wednesday that the White House shares the goal of Sandoval and Herbert to move people off welfare and into the workplace.

"This (Obama's) policy will help states move more people from welfare to work and any attempt to characterize this policy 'as anything more than an attempt to increase efficiency and improve outcomes for our programs is a gross mischaracterization,' " Carney said.

To back her argument, Kinner released a letter the state sent Aug. 2, 2011, to George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In that letter, state Health and Human Services Director Michael Willden discusses alternatives to the work requirements that he thinks might lead to higher employment by welfare recipients. Although he mentions possible waivers, he does not specifically seek one.

"Nevada is very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers that have the potential to encourage more cooperative relationships among the state agencies engaged in economic stimulus through job creation, employment skill attainment and gainful employment activities," he said.

He also talks about "exempting the hardest-to-employ population for a period of time (six months)" as a way first to remove barriers that prevent them from finding jobs.

Despite the state's highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate, Nevada's welfare caseload, now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, has not been increasing.

In June, 28,066 people received assistance. But only 7,303 were adults; the remainder were children.

A family of three in Nevada receives $318 a month. The state does not have the number of people who left the welfare rolls because they found jobs.

In the news conference, Carney called the Romney ad "blatantly dishonest" and said the administration's policy gives states "the opportunity to employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job."

Review-Journal reporter Laura Myers contributed to this story. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3900.