|For Immediate Release
|January 25, 1999
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is a good wayto start the day, isn't it? (Laughter.) We're all going to feel betterwhen weleave here.
Let me thank the previous speakers -- first I want to thank RobertHiggins and his entire organization for setting an example for corporationsthroughout America. And I thank his employees for coming here today andforbeing a vivid human illustration of how welfare reform can work at itsbest.
I thank my good friend of many years, Governor Mel Carnahan, andMrs.Carnahan who is here with him. We made two of our major welfare reformannouncements over the last several years in Missouri because no state hasworked harder to do this right, in a both humane and effective way.
I want to thank Carlos -- I was looking at him -- I don't know howmany-- how many public speeches do you think Carlos has made in his life?(Laughter.) Man, he stood up here, he had his head up, his shoulders back(applause.) I was thinking as I was watching him that after he does allthatcomputer stuff and makes money for a few years, that we're always lookingfor afew good candidates in this business, and he looked awfully good.(Laughter.)
I would like to thank Secretary Shalala, Secretary Herman, andSecretarySlater for their work on welfare reform. And there are two members of theHouseof Representatives here today who represent very different districts, butwhohave a passionate interest in this whole subject -- Representative BenCardinfrom Maryland and Representative Rubin Hinojosa from South Texas. And Ithankthem for being here and for what they've done for this cause. (Applause.)
And my good friend, Jane Campbell, County Commissioner fromCayahogaCounty, Cleveland, Ohio. And I'd like to say a special word, if I might,beforeI get into my remarks about Eli Segal who started our welfare-to-workpartnership.
You know, it takes a special, almost a genius, to start somethingthatdidn't exist before. And a couple of years ago when I announced in theState ofthe Union we were going to have this welfare-to-work partnership, we hadfivecompanies. A couple of years later we have 10,000 companies.
Yesterday, you may have seen in the press, I went hometo Arkansas to look at some terrible tornado damage. At eachplace where I went, both these places, there was a team of ouryoung AmeriCorps volunteers from all over America -- and most ofthem had never been to Arkansas before. One of the teams wasfrom St. Louis, working on the tornado damage. These youngAmericans give a year, sometimes two years of their lives; theyearn credit for college. In four years there have been over100,000 AmeriCorps volunteers. It took the Peace Corps 20 yearsto get to 100,000 volunteers. Eli Segal also started AmeriCorps.So for two great contributions to the United States, we thank himfor his remarkable, remarkable -- (applause.)
One of the reasons that I ran for President in 1992 wasto change the welfare system as we then knew it -- to move from asystem that promoted independence and had no incentives forparents who are not custodial parents to be responsible, andbasically gave people a check that was almost always inadequate,in the name of being humane, which assumed, more often than not,that they had no capacity to work and support their children.
All these things were done with the best of intentions-- we either assumed people couldn't do the right thing or weassumed that they wouldn't do the right thing, and so, well, wemade the best of an imperfect world by at least cutting a checkonce a month and then making sure that -- and I approve of thisand kept it -- there were nutritional and health benefits for thechildren.
And it seemed to me that we ought to -- before we justcontinue to give up on this -- we now had created a couple orthree generations in some places of people who depended onwelfare checks and repeated the pattern of the past -- that weought to try to develop a system that at least would try tocreate incentives and, where appropriate, requirements that wouldpromote independence, work and family responsibilities.
Now, everybody liked the idea and wanted to do it, buta lot of people, including a lot of very good people who hadlabored for years in this system, doubted that it could be done.And so we started working at it. And in the past six years, Ithink it's obvious that the American people have done a lot tochange all that.
When I became President, I worked with 43 states --Governor Carnahan mentioned this -- before we passed legislation,to just free them of federal rules which undermined their abilityto create a system that would promote work and family. Therewere many innovative programs that already were beginning to movelarge numbers of people from welfare to work, even before 1996.It was in that year that I was able to sign the landmarkbipartisan welfare reform law. I said then that our nation'sanswers to the problems of poverty will no longer be anever-ending cycle of welfare, but instead the dignity, thepower, the ethic of work.
Today we can actually foresee a time when we can breakthe cycle of welfare for good -- when welfare will literally bea support system given to people in hard economic times, or whenpersonal misfortune occurs, but that it will not be the rule oflife for large numbers of our fellow citizens.
Already we now see welfare rolls in America are thelowest they've been in 30 years -- for the first time in 30years, below 8 million people; down by 44 percent since I tookoffice. And the same people -- the number of people on welfarewho are also working some, taking that first step towardresponsibility, has tripled. Every state -- every state -- isnow meeting the work participation standards required under thewelfare reform law, something I confess that even I did notbelieve would happen. None of believed that they would -- everysingle one of them so far is meeting the work participationstandards of the welfare reform law.
America is working again, and this work is transforminglives and families. The welfare system is no longer holdingpeople back, it is helping them to move ahead.
Since the goal here -- and let's not forget what thegoal is -- it is to empower individuals and strengthen families.We've had to do more than simply put time limits on welfare. AsI said a moment ago, those who lose their welfare checks continueto get health and nutritional support for their children -- andthey should. It was one of the big battles we fought here whenwe debated this, and it led to two vetoes before we finally got abill that I felt that I could sign.
We also have increased our support for training, fortransportation, for child care for those who move from welfare towork, recognizing that there are barriers and we shouldn't expectpeople to actually move from welfare to work and lower theirstandard of living and lower their ability to support theirchildren. And there is more support for child care,substantially more, in this budget and for other things.
We have given more support for health care and childcare for all low income working families. I think that ourcitizens should never forget that the largest number of poorpeople in America are the working poor. And we should besensitive of that. And with the help of Congress we have doubledthe earned income tax credit for families with children. That isa targeted tax cut that's especially generous to low incomeworking families. And today it's worth about $1,000 to everyfamily of four with an income of under $30,000; and for familiesof two and three, lower incomes, it's worth quite a lot of money.So this was a major contribution of the economic plan of 1993 andit alone, along with the increase in the minimum wage, has liftedover 2 million children out of poverty.
Finally, let me say, as all of you know, I am trying toraise the minimum wage again because I don't think people shouldwork so poor children can still be in poverty. (Applause.)
I think it is very important, however, that werecognize that much of the success of welfare reform has comebecause of the growth of the economy at large -- nearly 18million new jobs in the last six years. I also think we have torecognize that much of the success of welfare reform has comebecause of the commitment of people in the private sector to dothe right thing. I think that if there were no companies willingto have the example that Fleet has offered us today, this wouldbe much, much harder.
And as we look ahead to the future, we have to assumethat reaching the next 8 million people -- or just under 8million people -- on welfare will be even more challenging thanreaching the 44 percent reduction that we have seen achievedalready. Therefore, since it's not fair to require people towork unless they have a chance to work, we have to honor andbuild up and work with the private sector to make sure they havethat chance.
As I said, we started two years ago with five companiesin the welfare-to-work partnership. Today there are 10,000.They have hired, retrained, and often promoted literally hundredsof thousands of people. And as you have heard, this is notcharity -- it's good for families, but it's also good for thebottom line, and good for the communities.
Now, smaller caseloads, bigger paychecks, are importantsigns of progress. But I think it's also important that werecognize this is about more than economics. And I think you cansee that. There's something intangible, even beyond the money,involved here -- the sense of security of these newly-workingmembers of our country; the sense of pride at being able tosupport a child, and being able to be a fully participatingmember of society.
So we have to do more, and we now know what works. Andwe've seen examples of it today. We know that long-term welfarerecipients can be turned into full-time workers. Now we mustensure that we go to the next step, that we deal with theremaining people on welfare, and that we do it, recognizing thatit is a challenge, but also a phenomenal opportunity for theUnited States and a responsibility for those of us who can dosomething about it.
In my State of the Union address last week I said thatwe can help another 200,000 Americans move from welfare to workwith extra support in the federal budget. To achieve that, Ipropose first that we renew the welfare-to-work program, which isset to expire in the year 2000. My balanced budget includes $1billion to help states and communities build upon their record ofsuccess. It also dedicates $150 million of those funds to lowincome fathers who fulfill their duty to work, to pay childsupport, to become part of their children's lives.
And I think all of us were thrilled by Carlos'sstatement. But I would like to make one point here that he madethat I think ought to be made more explicit. There is a reasonthat welfare reform has worked. There is a reason that programslike this magnificent program in Minnesota, giving fathers thetools they need to support their children, has worked. And thatis, most people are basically good people who want to do theright thing.
You know, we have all these programs, we talk about allthese policies and we hardly ever say that. But I think that'sworth stating. You saw a good person up here, talking about achild he loved. And it's so easy to forget that. The reason allthis stuff can be done is that human nature will rise to thelevel of possibility if given the opportunity and the guidanceand the support. That's the reason these rolls have reduced somuch.
You know, I hardly ever -- when I was governor for 12years I ran a welfare system in a poor state -- I don't believe Iever met -- and I went to welfare offices, and I sat and talkedwith caseworkers and welfare recipients, and went through thedetails of it -- and I have never met a person who has said, youknow, I really love getting this welfare check, and I hope Inever have to hit a lick. (Laughter.) I never met a person whosaid, gosh, I'm proud that I never pay any child support to mychild. You know, there may be a few, but to pretend that isanything like more than a small minority is a foolish assumption.(Applause.)
So I say, this is very important. And this $150million to support people, so there can be more stories likeCarlos Rosas', is very, very important. Many states are usingsome of their welfare-to-work funds, as you heard from GovernorCarnahan already, to get fathers to sign personal responsibilitycontracts, to do the right thing by their children. And now thisextra $150 million will help to ensure that every state can havethis kind of effort, and that every community that has anysubstantial number of people who would fall under this categorycan do the kinds of things we've heard about in this Minnesotaprogram.
But we have more to do. With the longest peacetimeexpansion in history, with a continually growing economy,businesses have to reach wider to get new talent. They have tobring more welfare recipients into the workplace if we're goingto continue to grow.
So we have to see this as an opportunity to makepermanent gains in dealing with the welfare challenge. Andtherefore, I think we have to do more to help those recipientswho are still on the rolls. And as I said, they're often thegreatest challenges to getting people into the work force.
Example number one -- that's why Secretary Slater ishere today -- two-thirds of the new jobs in America are in thesuburbs; three-quarters of the welfare recipients are in thecities, or in isolated rural areas. So you've got the jobs inthe middle, and the welfare recipients in the cities or in therural areas.
Our balanced budget will double funding to get workersto the workplace -- for transportation support. It also has a50-percent increase in housing vouchers, to help families findaffordable homes closer to the jobs and avoid difficult and,sometimes, actually impossible commutes.
Now, these are the kinds of things that I think weought to be doing. We don't have any excuse not to do it. Wehave the example of Fleet. We have the example of Missouri andGovernor Carnahan. We have the example of Carlos Rosas. We havethe example of these fine women who stood up when they wereintroduced as employees of Fleet. And we now know that it is notonly the right thing to do for our country, it is the right thingto do for our companies.
So I hope that we will have enormous bipartisan supportfor this new advance in the welfare budget. And I hope all ofyou will do everything you can to spread the word across thecountry that it is good for America to do this, and it will workbecause most people are good people and they want to do the rightthing.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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New Welfare-To-Work Initiatives