But what does it mean?
In the typical state, about 1.5 percent of the TANF caseload leaves the rolls each month because of employment. To be exempt from the federal work requirement, a state would have to raise that number to about 1.8 percent of caseload.
This is a minuscule change; as the economy improves, this small increase will occur automatically in most states. Moreover, states keep imperfect employment records of those leaving TANF; many states could easily achieve the required increase through modest improvements in recordkeeping alone.
But here's the kicker.
States have kept statistics on employment exits for decades, and they have always been meaningless as a measure of success.
Welfare caseloads always have routine turnover; the larger the caseload, the greater the number of exits, simply because there are more people in the system.
Historically, the number of employment exits rises as the caseload rises and falls as the caseload falls.
The count of employment exits is pointless at best.
At worst, it is a reverse indicator of limiting welfare dependence.
For example, according to the metric of employment exits, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children system was a whopping success: Caseloads soared and the number of employment exits nearly doubled.
By contrast, the post-reform TANF program would appear a failure, because caseloads fell and employment exits declined.
This is why, when the 1996 reform was drafted, the count of employment exits was deliberately excluded as a success measure. It is inherently misleading.
The Obama administration is waiving the federal requirement that ensures a portion of able-bodied TANF recipients must engage in work activities.
It is replacing that requirement with a standard that shows that the pre-reform welfare program was successful and the post-reform program a failure.
If that is not gutting welfare reform, it is difficult to imagine what would be.
Rector is a senior research fellow in the Heritage Foundation's domestic policy studies department. This column first appeared in The Washington Post.