THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||May 27, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO THE WELFARE TO WORK PARTNERSHIP BOARD
1:17 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Secretary Herman,Secretary Shalala, Administrator Alvarez, Director LaChance, thankyou. Let me begin by thanking all of you for coming. I thankespecially three members of the House of Representatives who arehere, Congressmen Payne, Gordon, and Davis, who are up here on thefront row. I can't thank Eli Segal enough for the wonderful work hehas done. He has now given birth to two of the most importantinitiatives of this administration: first our national service corpsproject, Americorps, which now has about 100,000 alumni to its creditwho have earned money for college by serving in their communities;and now the Welfare to Work Partnership.
I want to thank Jerry Greenwald for being willing totake on the leadership of this operation when no one could have knownthat it would turn out as well as it has. I thank the members of theboard of directors and the other business supporters who are here. Ithank the former welfare recipients and others who have supportedthem who are here.
I want to say a word about Rhonda, but first I want totell you that Tonya Oden, who is over here sitting to my left, spokeon a program like this at the Cessna corporation in Wichita, Kansas,and she did a great job and all of her folks were cheering for her.And I was listening to Rhonda, thinking, the best part of thisprogram is over. After she finished, I thought, the best part ofthis program is over. (Laughter.)
When you hear someone like Rhonda talk, you look at thepeople who are here and see these fine children, this is really acase where a picture is worth a million words. We will see a lotmore of Rhonda pretty soon because the Welfare to Work Partnership isairing some new national public service announcements with her as thespokesperson. And I want to thank Time Warner for helping us to putthem on the air and say that I am quite confident that she willinspire a lot of other people to follow her lead.
The Welfare to Work Partnership was based on the simplepremise that now that we have passed the welfare reform law whichrequired all able-bodied people who could work to work, we had amoral obligation as a society to provide a job to all those peoplewho were about to lose their guaranteed benefits for idleness. Itbegan with an understanding that we had to change the welfare system.And the conversation Rhonda related between herself and her daughtersays more than I could ever say.
I began working on this problem almost 20 years ago now.And I used to -- when I was a governor, I used to gather up formerwelfare recipients and put them on panels and make governors listento people talk about the difference in their lives as parents , ascitizens, the difference in their self-image when they wereproductive members of society.
After I became President, we worked with 43 differentstates to get them out from under federal rule so they could startprograms that would help move more people from welfare to work, andthen in 1996 I signed a historic bipartisan welfare reform law thatliterally ended the old welfare system as we knew it. It said thatwe would continue to guarantee health care and nutrition tolow-income families and children, but that after a certain amount oftime, people who could go to work, had to go to work. It also saidthat we had to provide more in the way of child care and othersupports for people who did move from welfare to work.
But that left a big gap. How were all these peoplegoing to find jobs? Would the existing system do it? That's whatled to the creation of the Welfare to Work Partnership a year ago.And again let me say I am profoundly indebted to the businesspeoplewho are here and those who they represent.
We announced a year ago 100 companies had joined thePartnership. We set a goal of reaching 1,000 companies within ayear. We underestimated by a factor of five; there are now more than5,000 companies in this Partnership. And what Eli and Jerry didn'tsay that I want to make clear is, they didn't just put their name onthe dotted line. All sorts of businesses, large and small and middlesize, have together in the last year hired 135,000 welfare recipientswho are now employees thanks to what they have done. That's anastonishing record in only a year and I thank them for it.(Applause.)
Let me point out to the skeptics, 70 percent of that135,000 jobs are full-time jobs with full health benefits.(Applause.) Yes, that's really worth clapping for.
Now, as Jerry pointed out and as many of the members ofthe board of directors told me earlier, right before we came overhere, this is not just good for America and not just good for thesefamilies, it's also turned out to be good for the businessesinvolved, many of whom find that these new workers stay on the joblonger, with less turnover, and later work to motivate theircoworkers.
We've tried to do our part -- Aida Alvarez and the SmallBusiness Administration are trying to connect new workers to smallbusinesses to make sure that our most vibrant, growing sector of thesociety in terms of employees takes on a fair share of people fromwelfare to work. We've tried to mobilize religious and civic andnonprofit groups under the Vice President's leadership to providementoring and support and help people get into and stay in jobs. Thefederal government has hired 4,800 people from welfare to work in thelast year; our goal is 10,000 by the year 2000 and we will make that.Seven work in the Executive Office of the President, and I'mparticularly proud of them.
The Balanced Budget Agreement I signed into law lastsummer provides $3 billion to help our communities move long-term,harder-to-place welfare recipients into jobs.
Now, these combined efforts have produced, along withthe rising economy, rather stunning results. When I took office,there were more than 14 million people on welfare; about 5.5 percentof the nation's population. It actually peaked in February of '94;it's the highest percentage we'd ever had. Today there are fewerthan 9 million people on welfare; 3.3 percent of the population --the lowest percentage of the population on welfare since 1969.(Applause.)
Now, this is a very hard-won victory for everybody whowas a part of it. But the most important part of it are thefamilies.
I think when we look at Rhonda, when we look at Tonya,when we look at Rhonda's kids there, when we look at all of the otherpeople who have moved from welfare to work who are here, we have toask ourselves, what else do we have to do. Because I can promise youthat there still are going to be people who can be moved from welfareto work who aren't there yet.
First, we have to find more private sector jobs. Iwould like to ask the Welfare to Work Partnership in 1998 to doublethe number of people they hire and to double the number of companiesthat are participating. Now, that sounds outrageous, but I justasked for 1,000 companies and you produced 5,000 so -- (laughter)--mathematically I'm asking for less. (Laughter.) I got good gradesin math, I know about that. (Applause.)
And, again, I hope that the people who will watch thepublic service announcements that Rhonda will do will understand thisis an enormous opportunity. One of the things that our economistssit around and worry about here in Washington all the time is, theysay, well, we've got 4.3 unemployment; we've had average way over 3percent growth the last couple of years; how can we keep growing thiseconomy without having inflation? The answer is go into theneighborhoods where there are still a lot of poor people who areunemployed and on public assistance and give them a chance to be apart of the American free enterprise system. That's an inflation-free way to expand the American economy. So we have to do this.
The second thing we have to do is to help more welfarerecipients succeed in the work place. The employers today told methat one of the hardest things for people moving from welfare to workis still providing transportation, providing child care, making surefor the smaller businesses that may not be able to afford all thetraining and education that there's support there. We have to domore.
Let me say that the highway bill, which just passed theCongress, I'm proud to say, has a substantial amount of money in itto help defray the transportation costs of people moving from welfareto work.
The tobacco bill, which has not yet passed, but which Ihope and pray will pass, has in it or will have in it a provision, ifthe agreement we've made with the governors prevails, which will leadto a substantial investment in helping to defray the child carecosts. The Labor Department has awarded grants to support 49innovative efforts around the country that provide training andeducation that help people move from entry-level jobs tohigher-paying positions, that help fathers go to work so they cantake more responsibility for their children. So we have to do more,and we're going to.
Now, finally, I think we've got an obligation tocontinue to fix -- we've already made a good start -- but to continueto fix parts of the Welfare Reform Bill that didn't have anything todo with welfare reform. Last year, Congress acted -- and Iappreciate it -- to restore important disability and health benefitsto legal immigrants, people who come here legally and have a right towork and have, in my view, a right to supports.
Two weeks ago, the Senate voted overwhelmingly torestore food stamps to elderly, disabled, and very young legalimmigrants; and I hope the House will follow their lead. That's theright thing to do -- at this moment of prosperity when we're tryingto support each other, move more people into the work place, when alot of immigrants are filling needed work positions and we have lowunemployment, we owe it to ourselves to do the right thing here.
Now, again, let me say that the best part of thisprogram was before I ever got up here. And I want you to rememberwhen you walk out of here what Rhonda looked like when she got uphere and what her kids looked like when they stood up, being proud oftheir mother, and how Jerry's happier doing this than he would havebeen if he'd won that $100 million lottery. (Laughter.) He may notknow that, but he is. (Laughter.) And I want us to go out anddouble our results by next year.
We've got to prove that we did the right thing inwelfare reform for all the American people that are willing to do theright thing by themselves, their children, and our country. And ifwe ever needed evidence that it is right, we've got it here today infull.
Thank you all and God bless you. (Applause.)