Home > 1999 Presidential Documents > pd01fe99 Remarks at a Memorial Service for Governor Lawton Chiles...

pd01fe99 Remarks at a Memorial Service for Governor Lawton Chiles...

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I just thank God there weren't more people killed. And I hope we can all 
keep the right attitude, and I hope all the neighbors will keep helping 
their neighbors and, in the end, I think it will come out all right.
    And, again, let me thank you, Mayor; thank you, Judge; and I thank 
all the other local leaders, and thank you for giving a chance to be 
here--giving us a chance to be with you today.
    God bless you. Thank you very much.
    I also wanted to say just one other thing. Just because I--there's 
one part of Arkansas I am not visiting today. In addition to Congressman 
Snyder, who has Pulaski and White County, Independence and St. Francis 
County, and I think one other county have been declared disasters. And 
the east Arkansas counties are in Representative Marion Berry's 
district, and Congressman Berry is here with us today, too. And so our 
thoughts are with the people east of here who are suffering as well. And 
some of those folks lost everything they have, and I just wanted to 
mention them and say our thoughts and our prayers and our support are 
with them, too.

[[Page 119]]

    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:47 p.m. in the Beebe School District 
Building. In his remarks, he referred to Katherine (Missy) Kincaid, 
Special Assistant to the First Lady; Mayor Donald Ward of Beebe; Judge 
Bob Parish of White County; Kieth Williams, Beebe superintendent of 
schools; State Senator Mark Beebe and State Representative Randy Minton 
of Arkansas; and Doug Kennedy, chief, Beebe Fire Department.

[Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents]

[Page 119-122]
Monday, February 1, 1999
Volume 35--Number 4
Pages 109-155
Week Ending Friday, January 29, 1999
Remarks on the Welfare to Work Initiative

January 25, 1999

    Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is a good way to start the 
day, isn't it? [Laughter] We're all going to feel better when we leave 
    Let me thank the previous speakers. First, I want to thank Robert 
Higgins and his entire organization for setting an example for 
corporations throughout America. And I thank his employees for coming 
here today and for being a vivid human illustration of how welfare 
reform can work at its best.
    I thank my good friend of many years Governor Mel Carnahan, and Mrs. 
Carnahan, who is here with him. We made two of our major welfare reform 
announcements over the last several years in Missouri because no State 
has worked 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 how 
many--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--I was thinking as I was watching him that after he does all that 
computer stuff and makes money for a few years, that we're always 
looking for a few good candidates in this business, and he looked 
awfully good. [Laughter]
    I would like to thank Secretary Shalala, Secretary Herman, and 
Secretary Slater for their work on welfare reform. And there are two 
Members of the House of Representatives here today who represent very 
different districts, but who have a passionate interest in this whole 
subject: Representative Ben Cardin from Maryland and Representative 
Ruben Hinojosa from south Texas. And I thank them for being here and for 
what they've done for this cause.
    And my good friend Jane Campbell, county commissioner from Cuyahoga 
County, Cleveland, Ohio. And I'd like to say a special word, if I might, 
before I get into my remarks about Eli Segal who started our Welfare to 
Work Partnership.
    You know, it takes a special, almost a genius, to start something 
that didn't exist before. And a couple of years ago, when I announced in 
the State of the Union we were going to have this Welfare to Work 
Partnership, we had five companies. A couple of years later, we have 
10,000 companies.
    Yesterday, you may have seen in the press, I went home to Arkansas 
to look at some terrible tornado damage. At each place where I went, 
both these places, there was a team of our young AmeriCorps volunteers 
from all over America--and most of them had never been to Arkansas 
before. And Governor, one of the teams was from St. Louis, working on 
the tornado damage. These young Americans give a year, sometimes 2 years 
of their lives; they earn credit for college. In 4 years there have been 
over 100,000 AmeriCorps volunteers. It took the Peace Corps 20 years to 
get to 100,000 volunteers. Eli Segal also started AmeriCorps. So for two 
great contributions to the United States, we thank him for this 
remarkable, remarkable thing.
    One of the reasons that I ran for President in 1992 was to change 
the welfare system as we then knew it, to move from a system that 
promoted independence and had no incentives for parents who are not 
custodial parents to be responsible, and basically 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 we assumed that they 
wouldn't do the right thing. And so, well, we made the best of an 
imperfect world by at least cutting a check once a

[[Page 120]]

month and then making sure that--and I approve of this and kept it--
there were nutritional and health benefits for the children.
    And it seemed to me that we ought to--before we just continue to 
give up on this--we now had created a couple or three generations, in 
some places, of people who depended on welfare checks and repeated the 
pattern of the past--that we ought to try to develop a system that at 
least would try to create incentives and, where appropriate, 
requirements that would promote independence, work, and family 
    Now, everybody liked the idea and wanted to do it, but a lot of 
people, including a lot of very good people who had labored for years in 
this system, doubted that it could be done. And so we started working at 
it. And in the past 6 years, I think it's obvious that the American 
people have done a lot to change 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 ability to create a system that 
would promote work and family. There were many innovative programs that 
already were beginning to move large numbers of people from welfare to 
work, even before 1996. It was in that year that I was able to sign the 
landmark bipartisan welfare reform law. I said then that our Nation's 
answers to the problems of poverty will no longer be a never-ending 
cycle of welfare, but instead, the dignity, the power, the ethic of 
    Today, we can actually foresee a time when we can break the cycle of 
welfare for good--when welfare will literally be a support system given 
to people in hard economic times, or when personal misfortune occurs, 
but that it will not be the rule of life for large numbers of our fellow 
    Already we now see welfare rolls in America are the lowest they've 
been in 30 years--for the first time in 30 years, below 8 million 
people, down by 44 percent since I took office. And the same people--the 
number of people on welfare who are also working some, taking that first 
step toward responsibility, has tripled. Every State--every State--is 
now meeting the work participation standards required under the welfare 
reform law, something I confess that even I did not believe would 
happen. None of us believed that they would. Every single one of them so 
far is meeting the work participation standards of the welfare reform 
    America is working again, and this work is transforming lives and 
families. The welfare system is no longer holding people back, it is 
helping them to move ahead.
    Since the goal here--and let's not forget what the goal is; it is to 
empower individuals and strengthen families--we've had to do more than 
simply put time limits on welfare. As I said a moment ago, those who 
lose their welfare checks continue to get health and nutritional support 
for their children--and they should. It was one of the big battles we 
fought here when we debated this, and it led to two vetoes before we 
finally got a bill that I felt that I could sign.
    We also have increased our support for training, for transportation, 
for child care for those who move from welfare to work, recognizing that 
there are barriers, and we shouldn't expect people to actually move from 
welfare to work and lower their standard of living and lower their 
ability to support their children. 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 child care for all 
low income working families. I think that our citizens should never 
forget that the largest number of poor people in America are the working 
poor. And we should be sensitive of that. And with the help of Congress, 
we have doubled the earned-income tax credit for families with children. 
That is a targeted tax cut that's especially generous to low-income 
working families. And today it's worth about $1,000 to every family of 
four with an income of under $30,000; and for families of 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, and it alone, along with the 
increase in the minimum wage, has lifted over 2 million children out of 
    And finally, let me say, as all of you know I am trying to raise the 
minimum wage again because I don't think people should work so poor 
children can still be in poverty.

[[Page 121]]

    I think it is very important, however, that we recognize that much 
of the success of welfare reform has come because of the growth of the 
economy at large--nearly 18 million new jobs in the last 6 years. I also 
think we have to recognize that much of the success of welfare reform 
has come because of the commitment of people in the private sector to do 
the right thing. I think that if there were no companies willing to have 
the example that Fleet has offered us today, this would be much, much 
    And as we look ahead to the future, we have to assume that reaching 
the next 8 million people--or just under 8 million people--on welfare 
will be even more challenging than reaching the 44 percent reduction 
that we have seen achieved already. Therefore, since it's not fair to 
require people to work unless they have a chance to work, we have to 
honor and build up and work with the private sector to make sure they 
have that chance.
    As I said, we started 2 years ago with five companies in the Welfare 
to Work Partnership. Today there are 10,000. They have hired, retrained, 
and often promoted literally hundreds of thousands of people. And as you 
have heard, this is not charity--it's good for families, but it's also 
good for the bottom line, and good for the communities.
    Now, smaller caseloads, bigger paychecks, are important signs of 
progress. But I think it's also important that we recognize this is 
about more than economics. And I think you can see that. There's 
something intangible, even beyond the money, involved here--the sense of 
security of these newly-working members of our country, the sense of 
pride at being able to support a child, and being able to be a fully 
participating member of society.
    So we have to do more, and we now know what works. And we've seen 
examples of it today. We know that long-term welfare recipients can be 
turned into full-time workers. Now we must ensure that we go to the next 
step, that we deal with the remaining people on welfare, and that we do 
it, recognizing that it is a challenge but also a phenomenal opportunity 
for the United States, and a responsibility for those of us who can do 
something about it.
    In my State of the Union Address last week, I said that we can help 
another 200,000 Americans move from welfare to work with extra support 
in the Federal budget. To achieve that, I propose first that we renew 
the welfare-to-work program, which is set to expire in the year 2000. My 
balanced budget includes $1 billion to help States and communities build 
upon their record of success. It also dedicates $150 million of those 
funds to low-income fathers who fulfill their duty to work, to pay child 
support, to become part of their children's lives.
    And I think all of us were thrilled by Carlos' statement. But I 
would like to make one point here that he made that I think ought to be 
made more explicit. There is a reason that welfare reform has worked. 
There is a reason that programs like this magnificent program in 
Minnesota, giving fathers the tools they need to support their children, 
has worked. And that is, most people are basically good people who want 
to do the right thing.
    You know, we have all these programs; we talk about all these 
policies, and we hardly ever say that. But I think that's worth stating. 
You saw a good person up here talking about a child he loved. And it's 
so easy to forget that. The reason all this stuff can be done is that 
human nature will rise to the level of possibility if given the 
opportunity and the guidance and the support. That's the reason these 
rolls have reduced so much.
    You know, I hardly ever--when I was Governor for 12 years, I ran a 
welfare system in a poor State--I don't believe I ever met--and I went 
to welfare offices, and I sat and talked with caseworkers and welfare 
recipients, and went through the details of it--and I have never met a 
person who has said, ``You know, I really love getting this welfare 
check, and I hope I never have to hit a lick.'' [Laughter] I never met a 
person who said, ``Gosh, I'm proud that I never paid any child support 
to my child.'' You know, there may be a few, but to pretend that that is 
anything like more than a small minority is a foolish assumption.
    So I say this is very important. And this $150 million to support 
people, so there can be more stories like Carlos Rosas', is very, very 
important. Many States are using some

[[Page 122]]

of their welfare-to-work funds, as you heard from Governor Carnahan 
already, to get fathers to sign personal responsibility contracts, to do 
the right thing by their children. And now this extra $150 million will 
help to ensure that every State can have this kind of effort, and that 
every community that has any substantial number of people who would fall 
under this category can do the kinds of things we've heard about in this 
Minnesota program.
    But we have more to do. With the longest peacetime expansion in 
history, with a continually growing economy, businesses have to reach 
wider to get new talent. They have to bring more welfare recipients into 
the workplace if we're going to continue to grow.
    So we have to see this as an opportunity to make permanent gains in 
dealing with the welfare challenge. And therefore, I think we have to do 
more to help those recipients who are still on the rolls. And as I said, 
they're often the greatest challenges to getting people into the work 
    Example number one--that's why Secretary Slater is here today--two-
thirds of the new jobs in America are in the suburbs; three-quarters of 
the welfare recipients are in the cities or in isolated rural areas. So 
you've got the jobs in the middle, and the welfare recipients in the 
cities or in the rural areas.
    Our balanced budget will double funding to get workers to the 
workplace--for transportation support. It also has a 50-percent increase 
in housing vouchers, to help families find affordable homes closer to 
the jobs and avoid difficult and, sometimes, actually impossible 
    Now, these are the kinds of things that I think we ought to be 
doing. We don't have any excuse not to do it. We have the example of 
Fleet. We have the example of Missouri and Governor Carnahan. We have 
the example of Carlos Rosas. We have the example of these fine women who 
stood up when they were introduced as employees of Fleet. And we now 
know that it is not only the right thing to do for our country; it is 
the right thing to do for our companies.
    So I hope that we will have enormous bipartisan support for this new 
advance in the welfare budget. And I hope all of you will do everything 
you can to spread the word across the country that it is good for 
America to do this, and it will work because most people are good people 
and they want to do the right thing.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:02 a.m. in the Presidential Hall 
(formerly Room 450) of the Old Executive Office Building. In his 
remarks, he referred to Robert J. Higgins, president and chief operating 
officer, Fleet Financial Group; Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri and 
his wife, Jean; Carlos Rosas, former welfare recipient who introduced 
the President; and Eli Segal, president and chief executive officer, 
Welfare to Work Partnership.

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