THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||March 10, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE BRIDGEPORT COMMUNITY
Housatonic Community Technical College
11:30 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. First of all,I think Pamela did a terrific job with her speech. And secondly,when Anthony stood up, I thought to myself, in a few yearsCongressman Shays will be retiring and I -- (laughter) -- may belooking at his successor right there. He was great. (Applause.)I love it. Senator Dodd, you might want to hire him as aconsultant this year. (Laughter.)
Mr. Mayor, I'm delighted to be back in Bridgeportwith you and Jennifer and the officials of the city government.I thank Senator Dodd and Congressman Shays and RepresentativesBarbara Kennelly and Rose DeLauro for joining us today. AttorneyGeneral Blumenthal, Treasurer Paul Sylvestor, Speaker Ritter andmembers of the legislature.
Like Senator Dodd, I want to extend my condolenceson behalf of Hillary and myself to the families of the victims ofthe shooting incident in Newington and our prayers are with them.
And like Senator Dodd, on a happier note, I want tocongratulate Connecticut for getting both its teams into theNCAA. (Laughter.) So did Arkansas. (Laughter.) Thank goodnesswe don't have a contest anytime soon, And what Senator Dodddidn't say is that UCON's men's team is actually playing inWashington this week. And so I think you all should keep scoreand see which members of your congressional delegation show up toroot the home team on. (Laughter.)
I'm glad to be back in Bridgeport. I really likethis community and I have admired the courage with which thepeople here have struggled in the tough years and moved to movethe community forward. I should tell you -- whenever I come to aplace you all notice that there are a few membersof the press who come with me. (Laughter.) And sometimes itseems that we're on opposite sides of the line, but you shouldknow that one member of the press, Larry McQuillan, who works forReuters NewService, and is actually the President of the White House PressCorps this year, is from Bridgeport. He will write a totallybiased, favorable story -- (laughter) -- about this wonderfulcollege and child care program today, I can assure you.(Applause.)
I want to thank President Wurtz for showing mearound the school and the unbelievable art collection here, whichyou should be very proud of. And I want to thank Marie Nulty fortaking me through the wonderful pre-school program.
In the Early Childhood Lab Schools Parent Handbookthere is the following quote: "A child is like a butterfly inthe wind. Some can fly higher than others, but each one fliesthe best it can. Each one is special. Each one is different.Each one is beautiful." After going through this child carecenter, it seems to me that that is a motto that every teacher Isaw lived and worked by, and that every child I met was made tofeel special every day.
The reason I came here today is twofold: First ofall, because of the extraordinary leadership for children andespecially on the child care center issue -- child care issue,Senator Dodd, along with the members of your House delegation whoare here, who have been terrific on this issue. And second,because what I see here today is what I believe every child inAmerica needs, and it's important that we graphically demonstrateto the country that with so many parents in the work force aregoing back to school, there is a crying unmet need which theMayor graphically and numerically demonstrated in his remarksjust here in Bridgeport, all over the country for the kind ofhigh-quality child that you offer here.
Today we have to make a commitment to extend thatoption to every family in America that needs it. I want to talkabout what we in the federal government can do on our own toimprove child care at federal centers, but most importantly, Iwant to talk about what Congress should do in the next 70 days tohelp every working family give their children the kind of childcare we see here.
As has been said already, these are good times forAmerica. We have 15 million new jobs, the lowest unemploymentrate in 24 years, the lowest inflation rate in 30 years, thehighest home ownership rate in history, the lowest welfare rollsin 27 years, the lowest crime rate in 24 years. And I'm proud ofit. (Applause.) These numbers only matter insofar as theyreflect differences in the lives of ordinary Americans -- adifferent life story that can be told. The reason I was proud tobe introduced by Pamela Price is that she embodies the changingstory of America over the last five years, and that's what wewant for every American who's willing to work for it.
In last year's historic balanced budget agreement weprovided a child care tax credit of $500 per child for families;expanded health care coverage to 5 million more children in lowerincome working families who don't have access to it now; andperhaps most important, have virtually opened the doors ofcollege to all Americans. For example -- and you can compare it,what it means here at Housatonic -- in the last years we haveadded 300,000 work-study slots, hundreds of thousands of morescholarships; we've made the interest on student loans taxdeductible; 100,000 young people have worked their way throughcollege or earned money for college by serving in AmeriCorps incommunity service projects. You can now save for a collegeeducation in an IRA and withdraw from the IRA tax free if themoney is used for a college education.
But most important, now there is a $1,500 tax credit-- that's not a deduction, a credit -- a reduction of your taxbill for the first two years of college; and a lifetime learningcredit that is substantial, but not quite that large for juniorand senior years, for job training programs, for graduateschools. I think we can really say that insofar ascommunity-based institutions like this are concerned, we haveopened the doors of college to all Americans who are willing towork for it. And that is a profoundly important achievement forour country.
Senator Dodd talked about what the Family andMedical Leave Act means. The American Dream is now in reach formore and more families. And that is a very, very good thing.But as you heard Pamela say, what made all this work for her asshe was struggling to put her life on track was knowing that herchild would be in a safe, healthy, positive child careenvironment. And if we really want to open the doors ofopportunity to all Americans, we not only have to finish ouragenda of bringing job opportunities and business opportunitiesinto every neighborhood and every city like Bridgeport inAmerica, we have to make sure that if the jobs and theeducational opportunities are open the parents can actually gowithout having to worry that they're neglecting their children.
We can never have a country that is fully successfulif millions of people every day get up and look forward to a dayin which they are terrified that they will have to make a choicebetween being a responsible parent and a good worker or a goodstudent. If we have to choose, we lose. Society has no moreimportant work than raising children. If everyone did thatsuccessfully, I think we would all agree we'd have less than halfthe problems we have today.
On the other hand, this economic boom we celebratewas fueled by having nearly two-thirds of the American adults inthe work force; the highest percentage of people in the workforce in history. That's how you get a low unemployment rate.Well, by definition, a lot of those folks are parents withchildren who have to be supervised, and nourished, and supportedand helped.
So when you think about this child care issue, ifyou look at the way I do, not just as President, but as a parentand as someone who's worked all his life, I say to myself, wecannot have a country that asks people to make a choice betweensucceeding at home and succeeding at work, and insofar as we haveto choose, we lose. When we know we can succeed at home and atwork because of an effective child care center, every Americanwins. The country wins. We're stronger in the 21st century.Our families our stronger, our economies are stronger, theyreinforce each other. That's really what this child care issueis all about.
Now, we've worked hard on this for the last fiveyears. We've helped a million more parents to pay -- or theparents of a million more children to pay for child care. Butobviously -- remember the Mayor's numbers for Bridgeport -- thereis a huge amount of work to be done here. And today, we'rereleasing a report that confirms the overwhelming need stillexisting all across America. The report shows that states havecome up with a lot of innovative ideas, and the Congressallocated $4 billion more to states for child care as a part ofwelfare reform. But even with all that, it is clear that theresources are simply not there yet to meet the needs of all thefamilies in America. States have been forced to turn awayliterally thousands upon thousands of low income families.
In Connecticut, the State Child Care Bureau has torestrict its aid to families on welfare or teen parents in highschool. They've actually stopped taking applications fromfamilies that are so-called "working poor" altogether.
So here we are at a time of unprecedentedprosperity, when people at the lower end of the income scale arefinally beginning to get pay rises and have some security intheir jobs, but we know they can't afford quality child carewithout help. So here we are at a time, the best of times forour country, and yet we still have millions of people getting upevery day, going to work worrying about their children. We areforcing them to make choices that no family should have to make,that no country should tolerate, and that we will pay for downthe road sooner or later. So what we want to do is pay for itnow, the right way and have a good, positive environment.(Applause.)
Now, let me say some of the things that I intend todo with the federal child care centers. We care, the federalgovernment cares in its child care centers for some 215,000children. That's quite a few. We want them to be a model forthe nation.
Today, I'm going to direct my Cabinet to do fourthings. First, to make all the centers fully accredited by theyear 2000. (Applause.) Now, what does that mean, in terms ofquality of facilities, training for workers and child-to-staffratios? Today, believe it or not, 76 percent of our militarychild care centers are already accredited, but only 35 percent ofour non-military centers are. We'll make both categories 100percent in the next 700 days.
Second, we have to make sure that all the centersconduct thorough background checks on workers. In too manystates there is no checking to see if the people we trust withour children are even trustworthy in the eyes of the law.Connecticut is one of the few states that actually does require acriminal background check of child care workers. Every stateshould do it and the federal government should certainly do it.
Third, we have to make sure that all federal workersknow about all their child care benefits and options in the firstplace. And, finally, we're going to do more work with theprivate sector to make federal child care better and moreaffordable.
If we do all that, there will still be millions ofkids out there and their parents who need help. In the balancedbudget I have presented to Congress for this year, I've proposeda comprehensive and responsible plan to strengthen child care.There will be other proposals to do the same thing.
Now, Congress is only going to meet about 70 moredays this year. I know you say, well, it's only March, but anywaythat's -- in Washington, Congress plans to only sit about 70 moredays. Now, there is enormous support, I believe, among people inboth parties in our country and I believe among people in bothparties in the Congress for taking action on child care. I havea plan and there are others which would double the number ofchildren receiving child care subsidies, at a million or more newkids, give tax cuts to businesses which provide child care,expand child care tax credits to 3 million working families, andimprove the standards of child care centers and provide morefunds to train -- adequately train -- workers in child carecenters. (Applause.)
We're not talking about peanuts here. Let me tellyou what we're talking about. The tax credits that we willoffer, if Congress would pass them, would mean that a family offour living on up to $35,000 a year that has high child carebills would not pay any federal income tax. That would be aterrific incentive to help working families afford quality childcare. And for lower income working families who don't owe anyfederal income tax anyway, if we increase the block grant goingto the states, it goes to subsidized care for lower incomeworking families; plus the money that we have given the statesfor people moving from welfare to work -- we will be able to makea huge dent in this problem.
If Congress acts, we can make child care safer aswell as more affordable. We can even give scholarships under ourplan to talented care-givers to train more people. We also canexpand after school programs to keep 500,000 more kids, when theyget a little older, off our streets and out of trouble afterschool. I think that's very important. (Applause.)
As I said, there are only 70 days left. There arealways with something this big some controversy around the edgesof the issue. But all these things can be resolved if theCongress will make up its mind to act. Because these 70 days ofmeetings where they can vote will be spread over most of theyear. There's still time for committee meetings, for staff to dotheir work, for all that kind of stuff to happen. We can dothis. We do not need to wait another year just because this isan election year to pass this. We need to do this now.(Applause.)
The other thing I want to say that's related to thisis that Congress must pass comprehensive tobacco legislation toreduce teen smoking and raise the price of cigarettes by up to$1.50 a pack -- (applause) -- impose strong penalties oncompanies that continue to advertise to children, and give theFDA full authority to regulate tobacco products and children'saccess to them. The revenues we raise from the tobacco companywould help to make a partial contribution to the child care planthat I have proposed as well. (Applause.)
Again I say, there's some controversy, there's someissues that have to be resolved in this tobacco settlement, toget the legislation. But I want to, again, graphicallyillustrate -- I just watched all those little kids in that room,those two rooms, these beautiful children -- every single day,even though it is illegal in every state in America, 3,000 morechildren begin to smoke; 1,000 of those 3,000 children will diesooner because of that decision. Hardly anybody becomes achronic, lifetime smoker who does not start in their teenageyears.
So I know there are only 70 days left and I knowthis is a big bill. But I know that there are Democrats andRepublicans in substantial numbers who want to do this. Weshould not let the calendar get in the way of the urgent need foraction. We can pass the child care reforms and we can fund them.And we can pass the tobacco legislation and we must. Just thinkabout it: 1,000 kids every day that wants -- just like all thesechildren did in here. Just think about it, every single day.There is no need to wait. There is no excuse for waiting. Thetime to act is now. (Applause.)
I leave you with this thought. I'm glad you clappedwhen I said these are good times for America. And you ought tobe proud of yourselves, because the whole country helped tocreate these good times. And the efforts that we make indifferent areas -- from the economy to crime to welfare reform toearly childhood to health and education -- they all reinforceeach other. But sometimes when times are good and people clapand they feel good, they relax. I tell you, when times are good,but challenges are large and the future is coming at you like afast train down a track -- and that's how the 21st century iscoming at you, with things changing more rapidly than ever before-- then an obligation is imposed to use the good times to act,not to relax.
So I say to all of you, the members of Congress whoare here are ready to act, so give them all a pat on the back,but do everything you can to send a clear and unambiguous signalthat you do not want the election year to be a relaxation year,you want it to be a legislating year for the children of thiscountry to make them stronger in the new century. After all,it's only 700 days away. Let's spend 70 days to make sure thatin 700 days we'll have the healthiest, strongest children in thehistory of our nation.
Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)