Senate to Pass Compassionate Welfare Reform Bill
West Ashley High School
Charleston, South Carolina
July 29, 2002
11:00 A.M. EDT
Thank you all very much. It's great to be back in Charleston. I want to thank
you for taking time out of your day to come by and say hello. It's good to be
back to the place where my mother graduated from high school. She must have
learned there that if you ever get to be a mother, make sure you tell your oldest
son what to do all the time. (Laughter.) I'm still listening.
I am so honored that Tommy traveled down with me. You know, Tommy and I were
fellow governors. I knew he had a good record as the governor of Wisconsin in
helping move people from welfare to work. So that when I -- one, I asked Tommy
to join us as the Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services,
because I know -- I know his passion for helping people in need, and I know
his philosophy. And so I want to thank Tommy for agreeing to leave the life
he had there in Wisconsin, and moving to Washington, D.C. and serving our nation
with such class and such distinction. I appreciate you, Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
I want to thank some of the members of the mighty South Carolina congressional
delegation who have joined us here today. (Applause.) Congressmen Brown, Wilson,
Graham and DeMint, who represent your state with such class. And I appreciate
you all coming. (Applause.) And it's good to see that my friend, the Lt. Governor,
Bob Peeler is here with us, as well. Thank you, Bob. Appreciate you coming.
And I want to give a special thanks to Bob Olson, the principal of this high
school. (Applause.) I know it's not easy to host a Presidential visit. The entourages
are quite large. But you all have done a fabulous job. It's such an honor to
be here in this high school. I want to thank you for, Bob, you and the teachers,
all the folks who work here, for being involved in education. There's nothing
more important to make sure that every single child in America gets a quality
I just had what they call a roundtable discussion about some of the programs
that are taking place here in South Carolina, programs all aimed at helping
people help themselves. I don't have time to go through all the stories, but
there are some remarkable people that joined us today -- those who have worked
hard to get off welfare to succeed, and those kind, compassionate souls who
are helping them. And I want to thank the participants for coming today. I really
appreciate our discussions.
I also met Steve Riggs, who is a volunteer here in South Carolina. He came out
to Air Force One. Steve's job is to -- as a volunteer is to work with the South
Carolina military department, which reenacts moments of American history. Steve
believes it's important to teach history -- live history, or history that through
people wearing uniforms, so they can see history come to life. He believes it's
important to teach our youngsters values that they can hold dear for the rest
of their life. Steve decided to do this on his own. It didn't require any government
edict or any proclamation. He's a volunteer to make South Carolina the best
state it can be. And I'm honored you're with us today, Steve. Thank you for
The reason I like to talk about people like Steve, and many of the people I
met this morning share the same concept that one person can do something to
help change America, and each of us have got to be a person helping to change
America. If you want to fight evil, if you want to join the war on terror, do
some good in your society. If you want to send a message to the evil ones who
attacked us, one way to do so is to love your neighbor like you'd like to be
loved yourself. And that's what's happening all across America. (Applause.)
I can't imagine what went through the mind of the enemy when they attacked us.
They must have thought America and Americans were shallow people, so materialistic
that when it came to defending something we hold dear we'd just kind of file
a lawsuit or, you know, wring our hands, be afraid of our shadows.
But they didn't understand America, see. And they're learning a pretty tough
lesson about this country: when it comes to the defense of our freedom, when
it comes to defending that which we hold dear, we're plenty tough and we're
determined and we will succeed. (Applause.)
Now, we're making progress on the war against terror. It's a different kind
of war. Steve re-enacts battles where there used to be infantries moving against
infantries and artilleries moving against artilleries and flights of aircraft
flying all over the -- this is a different type of war. These folks are nothing
but a bunch of cold-blooded killers who, they'll send youngsters to their death
and they'll hide.
And so this country, in order to protect America, is going to hunt them down
one person at a time, no matter how long it takes -- one person at a time. (Applause.)
I know this is a great military town and I want to thank all of you who have
got loved ones in the United States military. Please pass on from their Commander
in Chief that we're proud; we're proud of their service and we're proud of their
We're making progress on our economy. The foundation for growth is strong in
America. Interest rates are low, inflation is low, monetary policy is sound,
fiscal policy is sound, productivity is up. And tomorrow I'm going to sign a
bill that says as clearly as we can possibly say it out of Washington, D.C.
-- by the way, a bill supported by both Republicans and Democrats -- that if
you're a CEO and you think you can fudge the books in order to make yourself
look better, we're going to find you, we're going to arrest you, and we're going
to hold you to account. (Applause.)
And as Tommy mentioned, we're making great progress on helping people help themselves
so they do not become dependent upon government. We're helping people become
independent people, so they can realize their full human potential.
The welfare reform is a true success story. Since the passage of the bill in
1996, welfare caseloads have dropped more than 50 percent -- it's a remarkable
achievement -- 50 percent fewer people on welfare. Today, 5.4 million fewer
people live in poverty than in 1996; 2.8 million fewer children live in poverty.
And that's positive for America. (Applause.)
And an incredibly vital statistic is the percentage of African American children
in poverty is the lowest ever. (Applause.) The success of welfare reform is
not in the numbers, however. The success of welfare reform is not in the caseloads
cut. The success in welfare reform is the number of people whose lives have
been changed in a positive way. That's the success.
And we've got many success stories in South Carolina and all across the country.
I'm sure there are some here who I haven't had a chance to meet. Today I did
meet Lushanda Bright. She talked about her life and her story. First of all,
she had the toughest job in America, which is being a single mother. That's
the hardest work in this country, by the way, is trying to raise your children
on your own.
And that's what she was doing. She was a 24 year old at the time, she had two
young children. She was on unemployment benefits, and they were about to run
out in August. But she didn't just want a job, she wanted to do something better
for herself and for her children. And so she hooked up with a group here, all
aimed at helping people go from welfare to work; a group that came to be after
the '96 law, because the federal government finally in its wisdom said, we ought
to trust the local people to help, the local people to design the programs that
best work for South Carolina, people we're trying to help; that all knowledge
isn't in Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact, the more we trust the local people,
the more likely it is that good programs will spring forward to help the Lushanda
Brights of the world.
And such a program is called Moving Up. And they helped Lushanda. They asked
what she wanted, they asked what they could do to help. She enrolled in Northeastern
Technical College. She completed several courses on medical insurance and billing
-- by the way, while working at a convenience store, and being a mother of two.
Today she has a full time job at Marlboro Park Hospital. In the fall she's going
back to school to continue her education. And here's what she had to say: "A
whole lot has changed for me. My life has turned around. It was hard, but I
went from having nothing and ended up with a job I love."
Lushanda, thank you for coming. Thank you for sharing with us. (Applause.) I
appreciate you being here. (Applause.)
These are the human stories. These are stories which are repeated over and over
again all across America, because of a philosophy inherent in the 1996 welfare
reform bill that says people can achieve, just give them a chance. Help people
help themselves, and amazing things will happen in America.
I understand leaving welfare is not easy. But it's an essential step toward
independence from government. Work is the pathway to dignity and to freedom
and to self-respect. The stories that you hear across America are a tribute
to personal effort; they're a tribute to the organizations which help them;
and they're a tribute to the businesses which employ the people who want help.
They're a tribute to corporate America which understands there is a responsibility
not only to be honest about the books, but a responsibility to help in the communities
in which they exist by helping people who want to help themselves.
And so the welfare reform bill passed in '96 is a real success. And so the fundamental
question facing the country and facing the members of Congress is, what to do
when the bill becomes -- comes up for reauthorization. In other words, the way
things work in Washington is, if you pass a law, sometimes it doesn't exist
forever. In this case, this requires a reauthorization. And Congress has got
to choose whether or not we will continue to reform to help people, or will
law undermine the clear successes that have taken place since '96? That's the
fundamental choice facing your elected representatives.
I believe that compassionate welfare reform must move forward, to strengthen
work, to insist upon work as one of the benchmarks for success, because I believe
work increases somebody's self worth and dignity.
I know that the welfare bill, the reauthorization, needs to encourage marriage
and family. (Applause.) In order to help people, we also have got to start with
our youngsters early, and the welfare reform effort, the reauthorization, must
support effective teen abstinence programs. (Applause.) I urge Congress to join
me on these principles, these practical ways to help make America a better place.
Congress must always remember that when they write law, that we've got to trust
the local folks, as well; that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to trying
to help people help themselves. That the more flexibility there is for people
at the local level to design programs that work, the more likely it is we'll
achieve national objectives, which is fewer people on welfare, more people working;
fewer people despondent, more people hopeful; fewer people addicted, more people
free -- free to realize the great potential here in America.
And so we -- and we made some work, made some progress. The House of Representatives,
these members here, stayed with us on a very important bill that -- on the reauthorization
bill which supports stronger work requirements.
Today, for example, on the average in the state -- states require work of only
about 5 percent of the adults on welfare. In other words, the goal is incredibly
low. If you require work from only 5 percent of the adults on welfare, you're
likely to achieve that objective. That means a lot of other people aren't working.
And that's not right. Every state should be required within five years to have
70 percent of the people on welfare working. (Applause.)
That's not just a statistic, however. Inherent in the 70 percent number means
that we've got to help people at the same time; that we've got to provide the
resources, the flexibility -- and the flexibility so we can help people find
work. Programs like Moving Up work, and we've got to encourage programs such
as that -- not stifle them, but encourage them.
And here's what I mean by work: that means 40 hours a week. Now, I fully understand
some people need help. And so as part of the 40 hour work week, 16 of those
hours can be hours spent on job training or education, on skills, on going to
courses which help on changing skills. It is so important that we have high
standards, flexibility, but also recognize that people need help. People that
want to work, and on welfare many times don't understand how to even get started,
many of them haven't even graduated from high school. And that's why the proposal
also recognizes that an adolescent mom, for example, can meet her work requirements,
and still be helped, by attending high school.
There are some in our society who are addicted. They might want to work, but
they've got to deal with their addiction first. And so part of the work requirements
can be three months in full time drug rehabilitation programs.
The point is, is that we've got to give people the tools necessary to improve
their lives, and at the same time understand how important work is in freeing
people from the clutches of our government. And Congress must hear that message
when it comes to work. (Applause.)
It is also important to understand that a more hopeful society is one in which
we encourage strong marriages and families. (Applause.) I understand building
and preserving a family is not always possible; I know that. But it should be
a national goal. We ought to aspire for what's best. And what's best is for
our families to remain intact. All you've got to hear is from the man I met
today, Patrick, talk about the fatherhood initiative. He talked in compelling
terms about what it's like to have dads want to be a dad; and when dad is reunited
with their families, how vital and how real that person's life becomes and,
more importantly, how hopeful the life becomes for the children.
He works for the Sisters of Charity Foundation on the fatherhood initiative.
There are such initiatives throughout our society -- many in the faith community,
by the way. Initiatives that ought to be supported by the federal government.
And so, therefore, the bill that the House passed, that I proposed -- in my
budget, I have $300 million on an annual basis to support education programs
and counseling programs -- out of the faith community and out of the charitable
community and out of the government community, all aimed at encouraging marriage;
all aimed at helping couples to build and sustain healthy marriage in our society.
Families are important for our children. Families are important for American
women and American men. Families are important for America. (Applause.) In order
to help people help themselves, I strongly believe that we must encourage teen
abstinence programs. (Applause.) We've got to help people understand that, one,
it's okay to abstain. And, secondly, having a baby out of wedlock early in life
is going to make it awfully tough -- awfully tough on the child, awfully tough
on the mom. We've got to make it clear that we've got a health issue when it
comes to sexually transmitted disease, and that we've got to deal with it in
an upfront way with our youngsters.
You know, I've heard all the talk about the abstinence programs, and this that
and the other. But let me just be perfectly plain. If you're worried about teenage
pregnancy, or if you're worried about sexually transmitted disease, abstinence
works every single time. (Applause.)
The citizens of this state understand -- which is what I said -- citizens, by
the way, from all walks of life understand what I just said. You've got one
of the finest teen abstinence education programs in the nation. A lot of states
are turning to you for advice. You know this, that when our children face a
choice between exercising self-restraint and engaging in harmful behavior, the
government should not be neutral. (Applause.)
People say, when you have enough money in the budget to meet your goal -- well,
the budget I submitted, and the one passed by the House, spends $17 billion
a year on welfare for 2003. Now, that's the same amount that was spent in '96
-- but the difference is, the caseloads have dropped by half. So you've got
the same amount of money with half the clientele, which means there's a -- like,
for example, on the average, $16,000 per family will be spent on helping people
help themselves, as opposed to $7,000 in 1996. Here in the state of South Carolina,
the amount of money per family would double from '96 to today, from $4,200 to
$10,700 per family to help.
No, there's ample money in the budget, because of the successes of the past,
because there's fewer people to help. If you keep the funding constant, you've
got more money to help. And so that shouldn't be an excuse for people not to
move forward with a reform package that works.
Now the Senate is writing a bill, and I want to share with you some of my thoughts
about the bill that the Senate is writing. First, I believe the bill is a retreat
from the success. I believe they're not moving forward. I believe if the bill
goes through the way they've written it, it's going to go back -- we're going
to go backward here in America. And the bill would hurt the very people we're
trying to help.
For example, the bill that passed the Senate Finance Committee has so many work
exceptions that it would result in many fewer welfare recipients moving from
welfare to work. There are so many exceptions, so many loopholes, so many ways
out of holding people to high standards, that fewer people would actually be
moving from welfare to work. And that's not right. That hurts our fellow Americans.
There are so many loopholes that a state could meet its work requirement without
having even one person working at a job.
Now, let me give you an example. Under the way they're kind of writing it right
now, out of the Senate Finance Committee, some people could spend their entire
five years -- there's a five-year work requirement -- on welfare, going to college.
Now, that's not my view of helping people become independent. And it's certainly
not my view of understanding the importance of work and helping people achieve
the dignity necessary so they can live a free life, free from government control.
I'm also -- I'm not happy with the fact that they reduced the amount of money
by a third available to promote healthy marriage. That doesn't make sense to
me. As a matter of fact, some of the money that they believe they ought to be
spent on so-called family building will go to programs that have nothing to
do with promoting marriage.
On top of that, the Senate bill is weak on the budget. In other words, they're
saying we've got to spend a bunch more money in order to make us feel better
and make things work better. We don't need that. What we need is, focus on what
works. Focus on reforms. Focus on flexibility. Focus on elevating the programs
that have been proven over the last years to help people. We need a welfare
bill that's strong on work, not weak on work; strong on marriage; and a welfare
bill that's good for the taxpayers. And the Senate needs to do the right thing
in order to help with these reforms. (Applause.)
And, finally, encouraging work and supporting families and effective teen abstinence
program is not enough. That's not enough, they're not enough. We need more.
An abandoned child needs something larger and more important than welfare reform.
She needs a loving mentor. She needs somebody who is willing to put their arm
around a child and say, "I love you, what can I do to help you?"
People who struggle with addiction or who are victimized by abuse need more
than a check. They need personal support and concern and care and compassion.
This city is known as the Holy City because of your many churches. It's also
known as the Holy City because of the many good deeds done by the citizens here.
Charities and faith-based groups. (Applause.) What we must understand in our
society, faith-based programs and charities fill needs that no welfare system
can fill, fill the needs that no matter -- (applause.) The programs fill the
needs that no carefully designed program out of Washington, D.C. can meet. Government
can hand out money, but it cannot put hope into people's hearts. It cannot put
faith into people's lives. (Applause.)
I'm a strong proponent of the faith-based groups in America, because they're
reclaiming America one block at a time. They're helping save one life at a time.
They understand the power of changing a person's heart is a way to freedom and
independence and to better behavior. No, our government should not fear faith-based
programs in America, we ought to welcome them. (Applause.)
Faith-based programs ought to be treated equally with non-faith-based programs.
We ought not to ask the question, "who," we ought to ask the question,
"what works?" If you're program is a faith-based program and it changes
people's lives, and they become less addicted, we ought to say thank you, and
you can have equal access to money, and you don't even have to change your mission.
We understand the power of faith in our society, and we ought to welcome it.
I understand the strength of America. The strength of America is our people
-- it's not our government, it's the people. And ours is a compassionate and
decent nation. You know, I said earlier, out of the evil done to us will come
some good. People in America understand that we're into a different era, we're
heading to a different culture. It's one that says serving something greater
than yourself is an important part of being an American. It's a lesson that
came through on Flight 93. People flew an airplane in the ground to save other's
That example is one that I think is going to stand like a beacon for future
generations to understand what it means to be an American. It means that you
of course make a living for your family. But it also means that when you find
a neighbor in need, you love that person. It also means that while one of us
can't do everything, each of us can do something to change America one soul
at a time.
Out of the evil done to America will come incredible good, because our fellow
citizens have taken a step back, taken an assessment of what's important in
life, and realized serving our nation means helping somebody in need. The old
culture used to say, if it feels good, just go ahead and do it, and if you've
got a problem, blame somebody else. I sense a new change in America where each
of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life. Each
of us are responsible for loving our children, if we're fortunate enough to
be a mom or a dad, loving our children with all our heart and all our soul.
And each of us understands that in order to be a patriotic American, we must
love our neighbor like we'd like to be loved ourself, help a fellow American
And that's happening all across our country. I want to thank those of you who
are doing just that. I want to thank you for hearing the call. I want to thank
you for setting an example. I want to thank you for being a part of the greatest
country on the face of the earth.