[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book II)]
[August 22, 1996]
[Pages 1328-1330]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Statement on Signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity 
Reconciliation Act of 1996
August 22, 1996

    Today, I have signed into law H.R. 3734, the ``Personal 
Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.'' While 
far from perfect, this legislation provides an historic opportunity to 
end welfare as we know it and transform our broken welfare system by 
promoting the fundamental values of work, responsibility, and family.
    This Act honors my basic principles of real welfare reform. It 
requires work of welfare recipients, limits the time they can stay on 
welfare, and provides child care and health care to help them make the 
move from welfare to work. It demands personal responsibility, and puts 
in place tough child support enforcement measures. It promotes family 
and protects children.
    This bipartisan legislation is significantly better than the bills 
that I vetoed. The Congress has removed many of the worst provisions of 
the vetoed bills and has included many of the improvements that I 
sought. I am especially pleased that the Congress has preserved the 
guarantee of health care for the poor, the elderly, and the disabled.
    Most important, this Act is tough on work. Not only does it include 
firm but fair work

[[Page 1329]]

requirements, it provides $4 billion more in child care than the vetoed 
bills--so that parents can end their dependency on welfare and go to 
work--and maintains health and safety standards for day care providers. 
The bill also gives States positive incentives to move people into jobs 
and holds them accountable for maintaining spending on welfare reform. 
In addition, it gives States the ability to create subsidized jobs and 
to provide employers with incentives to hire people off welfare.
    The Act also does much more to protect children than the vetoed 
bills. It cuts spending on childhood disability programs less deeply and 
does not unwisely change the child protection programs. It maintains the 
national nutritional safety net, by eliminating the Food Stamp annual 
spending cap and the Food Stamp and School Lunch block grants that the 
vetoed bills contained. In addition, it preserves the Federal guarantee 
of health care for individuals who are currently eligible for Medicaid 
through the AFDC program or are in transition from welfare to work.
    Furthermore, this Act includes the tough personal responsibility and 
child support enforcement measures that I proposed 2 years ago. It 
requires minor mothers to live at home and stay in school as a condition 
of assistance. It cracks down on parents who fail to pay child support 
by garnishing their wages, suspending their driver's licenses, tracking 
them across State lines, and, if necessary, making them work off what 
they owe.
    For these reasons, I am proud to have signed this legislation. The 
current welfare system is fundamentally broken, and this may be our last 
best chance to set it straight. I am doing so, however, with strong 
objections to certain provisions, which I am determined to correct.
    First, while the Act preserves the national nutritional safety net, 
its cuts to the Food Stamp program are too deep. Among other things, the 
Act reinstates a maximum on the amount that can be deducted for shelter 
costs when determining a household's eligibility for Food Stamps. This 
provision will disproportionately affect low-income families with 
children and high housing costs.
    Second, I am deeply disappointed that this legislation would deny 
Federal assistance to legal immigrants and their children, and give 
States the option of doing the same. My Administration supports holding 
sponsors who bring immigrants into this country more responsible for 
their well-being. Legal immigrants and their children, however, should 
not be penalized if they become disabled and require medical assistance 
through no fault of their own. Neither should they be deprived of food 
stamp assistance without proper procedures or due regard for individual 
circumstances. Therefore, I will direct the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service to accelerate its unprecedented progress in 
removing all bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of citizenship 
for legal immigrants who are eligible. In addition, I will take any 
possible executive actions to avoid inaccurate or inequitable decisions 
to cut off food stamp benefits--for example, to a legal immigrant who 
has performed military service for this country or to one who has 
applied for and satisfied all the requirements of citizenship, but is 
awaiting governmental approval of his or her application.
    In addition to placing an undue hardship on affected individuals, 
denial of Federal assistance to legal immigrants will shift costs to 
States, localities, hospitals, and medical clinics that serve large 
immigrant populations. Furthermore, States electing to deny these 
individuals assistance could be faced with serious constitutional 
challenges and protracted legal battles.
    I have concerns about other provisions of this legislation as well. 
It fails to provide sufficient contingency funding for States that 
experience a serious economic downturn, and it fails to provide Food 
Stamp support to childless adults who want to work, but cannot find a 
job or are not given the opportunity to participate in a work program. 
In addition, we must work to ensure that States provide in-kind vouchers 
to children whose parents reach the 5-year Federal time limit without 
finding work.
    This Act gives States the responsibility that they have sought to 
reform the welfare system. This is a profound responsibility, and States 
must face it squarely. We will hold them accountable, insisting that 
they fulfill their duty to move people from welfare to work and to do 
right by our most vulnerable citizens, including children and battered 
women. I challenge each State to take advantage of its new flexibility 
to use money formerly available for welfare checks to encourage the 
private sector to provide jobs.
    The best antipoverty program is still a job. Combined with the newly 
increased minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit--

[[Page 1330]]

which this legislation maintains--H.R. 3734 will make work pay for more 
    I am determined to work with the Congress in a bipartisan effort to 
correct the provisions of this legislation that go too far and have 
nothing to do with welfare reform. But, on balance, this bill is a real 
step forward for our country, for our values, and for people on welfare. 
It should represent not simply the ending of a system that too often 
hurts those it is supposed to help, but the beginning of a new era in 
which welfare will become what it was meant to be: a second chance, not 
a way of life. It is now up to all of us--States and cities, the Federal 
Government, businesses and ordinary citizens--to work together to make 
the promise of this new day real.

                                                      William J. Clinton

The White House,

August 22, 1996.

Note: H.R. 3734, approved August 22, was assigned Public Law No. 104-