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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 11, 2002
Radio Address by the President to the Nation
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Next week, the United States House of Representatives is scheduled to debate a welfare reform plan that will touch the lives of millions of Americans. The last time Congress reformed welfare, in 1996, it put millions of Americans on the path to better lives.
Because of work requirements and time limited benefits, welfare caseloads have dropped by more than half. Today, 5.4 million fewer people live in poverty, including 2.8 million fewer children than in 1996. Yet, the real success of welfare reform is not found in the number of caseloads that have been cut, but in the number of lives that have been changed.
I've traveled all across our nations and I've met people whose lives have been improved because of welfare reform. I have heard inspiring stories of hope and dignity and hard work and personal achievement. Yet, there are still millions of Americans trapped in dependence, without jobs and the dignity they bring. And now Congress must take the next necessary steps in welfare reform.
Compassionate welfare reform should encourage strong families. Strong marriages and stable families are good for children. So stable families should be a central aim of welfare policy. Under my plan, up to $300 million per year will be available to states to support good private and public programs that counsel willing couples on building a healthy respect for marriage.
Compassionate welfare reform must allow states greater flexibility in spending welfare money. Today, confusing and conflicting regulations are keeping people from getting help. My proposal would give states the freedom to redesign how federal programs operate in their states. This will allow states to be more innovative in providing better job training, housing and nutrition programs, and better child care services to low income families.
Most of all, compassionate welfare reform must encourage more and more Americans to find the independence of a job. Today, states on average must require work of only 5 percent of adults getting welfare. I am proposing that every state be required within five years to have 70 percent of welfare recipients working or being trained to work at at least 40 hours a week. These work requirements must be applied carefully and compassionately.
Because many on welfare need new skills, my plan allows states to combine work with up to two days each week of education and job training. Our proposal allows for three months in full-time drug rehabilitation or job training. And adolescent mothers can meet their work requirements by attending high school. A work requirement is not a penalty. It is the pathway to independence and self-respect. For former welfare recipients, this path has led to a new and better life.
When I was in North Carolina earlier this year, I met Ella Currence, a mother of four, who was on welfare for seven years. She knew change would be difficult. But she also knew change was best. Ella began participating in the state's Work First program. She has been working for the last five years, and she put her life in order. Ella says, "you can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it." This is the spirit and confidence encouraged by work.
Everyone in America benefits from compassionate welfare reform. Former welfare recipients gain new hope and know the independence and dignity of an honest day's work. As our recovery continues, business will need more motivated and trained workers. Good welfare reform laws can break dependency and help the American economy.
My administration has worked closely with Congress in writing the new welfare legislation. It's an excellent bill that will provide hope and promise, dignity and opportunity to millions of Americans. I urge the House to pass it, and the Senate to then act on it.
Thank you for listening.