[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book I)]
[February 2, 1993]
[Pages 32-35]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the National Governors' Association
February 2, 1993

    Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Governor Romer, ladies and 
gentlemen. I felt pretty good sitting at that table although that's my 
real place over there. [Laughter] We had a wonderful meeting yesterday, 
I thought, for a long time, maybe the longest time a President has ever 
met with a group of Governors, but we were discussing a terribly 
important issue: health care. And then we also got to discuss the 
deficit crisis and the budget problems a little bit.
    I wanted to come here today, as you prepare to leave, to once again 
reaffirm my commitment to working in partnership with the Governors. You 
deal with real people in a more immediate way than, unfortunately, the 
President often gets to do. When I was a Governor, every day I would 
hear directly from people or see people who had suffered from layoffs or 
had their businesses closed down or who were afraid of losing their 
health coverage or who desperately wanted to improve their schools.
    As you and I learned from last year's elections, the only pattern 
was not a partisan one. It was a pattern of determination on the part of 
the American people to have their political system and their Government 
address their real concerns. They don't want our process divided by 
partisanship or dominated by special interest or driven by short-term 
advantage. They know things that have too often been forgotten here over 
the last dozen years. The values that are central to our country's 
character must be central to our Government: work, family, faith, 
opportunity, responsibility, and community.
    What I appreciated about this meeting is that no matter what our 
region or our party, we've always gotten together and tried to pay 
serious attention to our problems. I think the Governors have 
exemplified for the last dozen years the bold, persistent 
experimentation that President Roosevelt called for at the beginning of 
the Great Depression when he took office. And I'm here to tell you that 
I'm going to do everything I can to work with you in partnership to 
share ideas and resources and energy to try to do what we can to move 
this country forward.
    As we discussed health care, economic policy, and the deficit 
yesterday, I'd like to spend just a few moments today talking about 
something that many of us have been working on since the middle 1980's, 
the issue of welfare reform.
    I've often spoken with many of you about the need to end welfare as 
we know it, to make it a program that supports people who have fallen on 
hard times or who have difficulties that can be overcome, but eventually 
and ultimately a program that helps people to get on their feet through 
health care, child care, job training, and ultimately a productive job.
    No one likes the welfare system as it currently exists, least of all 
the people who are on it. The taxpayers, the social service employees 
themselves don't think much of it either. Most people on welfare are 
yearning for another alternative, aching for the chance to move from 
dependence to dignity. And we owe it to them to give them that chance.
    In the middle 1980's, when I was a Governor here, I worked with 
Governor Castle, now a

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Member of the Congress--he and Governor Carper changed jobs, and in 6 
months they're going to have a vote to see who won and who lost--
[laughter]--to try to work with the Congress to develop a national 
welfare reform program. With the support of people in the House and the 
Senate, with the particular help of Senator Moynihan, now the chairman 
of the Senate Finance Committee, and with the support of the White 
House, the Governors had an unprecedented role in writing the Family 
Support Act of 1988, which President Reagan signed into law shortly 
before he left office and which Senator Moynihan said was the most 
significant piece of social reform in this area in the last generation.
    The Family Support Act embodies a principle which I believe is the 
basis of an emerging consensus among people without regard to party or 
without regard to their traditional political philosophies. We must 
provide people on welfare with more opportunities for job training, with 
the assurance that they will receive the health care and child care they 
need when they go to work, and with all the opportunities they need to 
become self-sufficient. But then we have to ask them to make the most of 
these opportunities and to take a job.
    As all of you know, the States never had the chance to fully 
implement the Welfare Reform Act of 1988 for two reasons: first, because 
over the last 4 years the welfare rolls have exploded everywhere and 
health care costs have gone up as the job market has declined and the 
economy has grown at the slowest rate in half a century; secondly, 
because of the economic problems, Government revenues have been down and 
the Congress and the administration were never able to fully fund the 
education and training portion of the act. This was clearly manifested 
not only in the growth of welfare rolls but in the fact that last year, 
for the first time since the program began, 1 in 10 Americans were on 
food stamps. So as the weak economy left millions of more in poverty, 
and the welfare rolls increased 5 times greater during the last 4 years 
than under the previous two administrations combined, it made it more 
difficult to make welfare reform work.
    In spite of that, I think it would be a great mistake to conclude 
that that act was of no significance or that nothing good has occurred. 
Bipartisan efforts in State after State from New Jersey to Georgia, to 
Wisconsin, and many others all across the country, have resulted in 
innovative approaches to help move people off welfare rolls and onto 
    In our State, through the program we call Project Success, more than 
17,000 people moved from welfare to work. And more importantly, at a 
time when the rolls were exploding, our rolls grew much more slowly than 
the national average. Many of you have your own successes to report, and 
I had the opportunity to visit, in many of the States here represented, 
projects that were terribly impressive to me.
    I say this to make the following point: The bill that is on the 
books will work, given the right economy and the right kind of support 
systems, but we need to do more than fully implement it; we need to do 
that and go beyond.
    I salute you for forming a State officials advisory group on welfare 
reform with Governors and legislators and health and welfare directors 
from 10 States. I want to tell you today that within the next 10 days I 
will announce a welfare reform group to work with you. I will ask top 
officials from the White House, the Health and Human Services, and other 
agencies involved to sit down with Governors and congressional leaders 
and develop a welfare reform plan that will work. I have asked the best 
people in the Nation on this subject to come and help me do this.
    The day I took office I promised the American people I would fight 
for more opportunity for all and demand more responsibility from all. 
And that is a commitment I am determined to keep, with your help, by 
putting an end to welfare as we know it.
    Our working group will learn from and work with State officials, 
business and labor folks, and leaders from every walk of life who care 
about this issue. On welfare reform, as on health care reform, there are 
no top-down, made-in-Washington solutions that will work for everyone. 
The problems and the progress are to be found in the communities of this 
    But I do want to tell you the principles this morning that will 
guide my administration as we work with you to reform welfare. First, 
welfare should be a second chance, not a way of life. I want to give 
people on welfare the education and training and the opportunities they 
need to become self-sufficient. To make sure they can do it after they 
go to work, they must still have access to health care and to child

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care. So many people stay on welfare not because of the checks; the 
benefit levels, as many of you know, in real dollar terms are lower than 
they were 20 years ago. They do it solely because they do not want to 
put their children at risk of losing health care or because they do not 
have the money to pay for child care out of the meager wages they can 
earn coming from a low education base. We have got to deal with that.
    I believe 2 years after a training program is completed, you have to 
ask people to take a job ultimately, either in the private sector or in 
public service. There must be, in addition to the full implementation of 
the welfare reform act of 1988, in my opinion, a time-certain beyond 
which people don't draw a check for doing nothing when they can do 
something. And there is a lot of work out there to be done.
    Senator Boren and Senator Wofford have offered a bill to try to 
recreate on a very limited basis a pilot project that would take the 
best of what was done with the work programs of the thirties and try to 
throw them into the context of the nineties. We must begin now to plan 
for a time when people will ultimately be able to work for the check 
they get, whether the check comes from a private employer or from the 
United States taxpayers.
    Today, about half the people on welfare are just the people welfare 
was meant to help. They fall on hard times, and they have to have public 
assistance. They're eager to move on with their lives. And after 5 or 6 
months or 8 months they're right back at work again, struggling to make 
their way in the American way. About half the people on welfare stay on 
for over 2 years. But one in four persons, the people that we really 
need to try to help to break the cycle that is gripping their children 
and grandchildren, about one in four stays a recipient for 8 years or 
longer. Those are the folks that Governor Wilder I know is now working 
on, that many of you have tried to address the problems of, and I want 
to help you with that.
    Second, we need to make work pay. We have to make sure that every 
American who works full-time, with a child in the home, does not live in 
poverty. If there is dignity in all work, there must be dignity for 
every worker. Therefore, I will propose an expansion in the earned-
income tax credit which supplements the income of the working poor.
    We can do that. We ought to be able to lift people who work 40 hours 
a week, with kids in their home, out of poverty. And we will remove the 
incentive for staying in poverty. It will be much less expensive than to 
have Government direct supplements to pay people to remain idle. And it 
will reinforce the work ethic. If we can do that and at the same time do 
what we discussed yesterday, control health care costs and expand 
coverage so that no one has to stay on welfare just to take care of 
their children's medical needs, I think you will see a dramatic 
breakthrough in our efforts to liberate people from their dependency.
    Third, we need tougher child support enforcement. An estimated 15 
million children have parents who could pay child support but don't. We 
need to make sure that they do. Parents owe billions of dollars in child 
support that is unpaid, money that could go a long way toward cutting 
the welfare rolls and lifting single parents out of poverty and money 
that could go a long way toward helping us control Government 
expenditures and reducing that debt. We're going to toughen child 
support enforcement by creating a national databank to track down 
deadbeat parents, by having the States go as far as they possibly can to 
establish paternity at the hospital when children are born, and if I can 
prevail up here, by using the IRS to collect unpaid support in seriously 
delinquent cases. I've said it before because it's the simple truth: 
Governments don't raise children, people do. And even people who aren't 
around ought to do their part to raise the children they bring into this 
    Fourth, we need to encourage experimentation in the States. I will 
say again what you know so well: There are many promising initiatives 
right now at the State and local level, and we will work with you to 
encourage that kind of experimentation. I do not want the Federal 
Government, in pushing welfare reforms based on these general 
principles, to rob you of the ability to do more, to do different 
things. And I want to try to flesh out a little bit of the idea we 
discussed yesterday about the waivers. My view is that we ought to give 
you more elbow room to experiment.
    I know I was perplexed during the recent campaign when I tried to 
make a statement that some people in the press said reflected waffling, 
and it seemed to me to express the real genius of the federal system. I 
said that if I were President I would approve waivers

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of experiments that I did not necessarily agree with. And they said, 
``You're trying to have it both ways.'' I said, ``No, I'm not. I'm 
trying to honor the Founding Fathers.'' If we didn't disagree on 
anything, what would be the need for experiments? That is the nature of 
the experiment, is that one person has an idea different from another 
    So I will encourage all of us to work together to try things that 
are different. And the only thing I want to ask you in return is, let us 
measure these experiments and let us measure them honestly, so that if 
they work, we can make them the rule, we can all adopt things that work. 
And if they don't, we can stop and try something else. That's the only 
thing I ask of you. If we say, okay, we're going to have more waivers 
and you're going to be able to experiment in projects that use Federal 
dollars, let's measure the experiment, let's be honest about it. And if 
it works, let's tell everybody it works so we can all do it. And if it 
doesn't, let's have the courage to quit and admit it didn't.
    I think all of us want what most people on welfare want, a country 
that gives you a hand up, not a handout. We don't have a person to 
waste. We need the talent, the energy, the skills of every man and 
woman, every boy and girl in this country.
    Of all the problems we have with competitiveness, whether it is the 
deficit or the level of investment or anything else, I think all of us 
know in our heart of hearts America's biggest problem today is that too 
many of our people never get a shot at the American dream and that if 
all of our people were living up to the fullest of their potential, we 
would surely have a much easier path in solving all the issues that we 
constantly debate about at these meetings.
    Of all my moments as Governor, one I remember with the most pride 
occurred here at a National Governors' Association meeting during that 
2-year period when we were working on welfare reform. Governor Castle 
and I sponsored a panel, and I think 40 Governors attended. And we had 
welfare recipients from all over the country come in and talk to the 
Governors about what it was like to be on welfare.
    A woman from Arkansas who was there, whom I knew but had not vetted 
for this conversation, started talking about her program and how she'd 
gone into a training program and she had gotten a job, all of that. And 
I did something lawyers are told never to do: I asked a question without 
knowing the answer. I said, ``Do you think this program ought to be 
mandatory? Should everybody have to participate in this?'' She said, ``I 
sure do.'' And I said, ``Why?'' And she said, ``Well, because if it 
wasn't, there would be a lot of people like me home watching the soaps 
because we don't believe we can make anything of ourselves anymore. So 
you've got to make it mandatory.'' And I said, ``What's the best thing 
about having a job?'' She said, ``When my boy goes to school, and they 
say, `What does your mama do for a living?', he can give an answer.''
    I think that moment says more than I will ever be able to say about 
why this is important, not just important for the poor but important for 
the rest of us. We must end poverty for Americans who want to work. And 
we must do it on terms that dignify all of the rest of us, as well as 
help our country to work better. I need your help, and I think we can do 
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.