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
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.