[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book II)]
[September 10, 1996]
[Pages 1520-1525]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 1520]]

Remarks to the Southern Governors' Association in Kansas City
September 10, 1996

    The President. Thank you very much. Thank you for the warm welcome. 
Thank you, Governor Carnahan and Governor Allen, Governor Patton, 
Governor Caperton, Governor Miller, Governor Beasley, Governor 
Huckabee--nice pen, Governor Huckabee--[laughter]--I like that.
    Ladies and gentlemen, I'm glad to be back at the Southern Governors' 
Association. I'm glad to be back at a time when I feel good about the 
direction of our country. And I know we all feel challenged, as Governor 
Carnahan said, because of our new responsibility in the aftermath of the 
passage of the welfare reform law.
    I have just come from a very moving encounter at the Full Employment 
Council here in Kansas City. Mayor Cleaver and Congresswoman Karen 
McCarthy took me over there. I thank them for going. I thank Clyde 
McQueen and Gayle Hobbs for being there, and I'll talk about the other 
people who were there in a few moments.
    But let me say I am very glad to be back here and to discuss, as the 
Governor said, a problem that is keeping our people from becoming all 
that we can be. The country is clearly moving in the right direction. We 
have the lowest unemployment rate in 7\1/2\ years, 10\1/2\ million new 
jobs, the lowest combined rates of inflation, unemployment, and home 
mortgages in almost 30 years. The deficit has gone down 4 years in a row 
for the first time in a President's term since John Tyler was the 
President in the 1840's. I always tell everybody, the bad news is John 
Tyler was not reelected. [Laughter] But it was still a good thing that 
he did. [Laughter]
    The crime rate has gone down for 4 years in a row, thanks in no 
small measure to efforts made by the Governors here and around the 
country. The welfare rolls are nearly two million smaller than they were 
the day I took the oath of office. The Government is the smallest it's 
been since President Kennedy was in office. We are working hard to help 
people to succeed at home and at work. The average closing costs for 
first-time homebuyers has been cut by about $1,000, thanks to an 
initiative led by Secretary Cisneros and the FHA. The earned-income tax 
credit reduced taxes for 15 million of the hardest pressed working 
families on lower incomes. We're immunizing more children and trying to 
give more parents the power to protect their children through things 
like the V-chip, the television rating system, the new educational 
television programming that will be coming forth soon.
    The family and medical leave law has allowed 12 million families to 
take some time off for the birth of a child or the illness of a parent 
without losing their job. I think it should be modestly expanded to 
allow parents to go to parent-teacher conferences and regular doctor 
appointments. It plainly isn't hurting the economy, and anything that 
helps us to succeed with our families and to strengthen the economy I 
think is a very, very good thing.
    I think it's also important to note that we're trying to change the 
way Washington works. The thing I loved most about being a Governor was 
that the job was a lot more about what are we going to do than who are 
we going to blame. And in Washington, I think in part because it's so 
far from where people live and you have to pierce through all the layers 
between you and the folks back home, that too often it becomes more 
about who to blame than what to do. So I hope we have changed that.
    And let me say that----

[At this point, a live local news broadcast at the back of the room 
interrupted the President's remarks.]

    The President. Does that guy want to give a speech back there? 
[Laughter] We'll be glad to listen to you, but we can't both talk at the 
same time. [Laughter]
    I do believe that this business about what to do and not who to 
blame is going to be brought into play more powerfully on the issue of 
welfare reform than any other issue in recent history. And I'd like to 
ask you all just to stop a few minutes and think with me about what it 
    First, let me say the States should be very proud of themselves. Our 
administration has now given 77 waivers to 43 States who have moved 1.8 
million people from welfare to work. That's a pretty good record, and 
I'm proud of the States. I'm proud of the community groups

[[Page 1521]]

that work on this. I'm proud of the employers who have done the hiring. 
Of course, part of it is due to the rising tide of the economy, but an 
awful lot of it is due to the special efforts being made State by State, 
community by community.
    There is a passion in this country now to liberate people from the 
dependency of a welfare system which has not worked, to move people from 
welfare to work in a way that enables them to support their children and 
live in greater dignity. It is sweeping the country. It is felt in every 
corner of the country by people from all walks of life, of all political 
persuasions, of all racial and ethnic groups. It is running at high 
tide, and a lot has happened in the last 4 years.
    The new welfare reform law dramatically increases the possibilities 
of moving people from welfare to work and the requirements to do so. And 
just to basically review what the law does, it says essentially this: 
There will continue to be a national guarantee, funded by the Federal 
and State governments of health care, nutrition, and now more child care 
for people who move from welfare to work, but that portion of our 
welfare expenditures that used to go in monthly entitlement checks to 
welfare recipients will now go to the States in a big block of money, 
and they, in turn, will have to move people who are able-bodied from 
welfare to work within 2 years, and in no case can able-bodied people 
have more than 5 years total of welfare benefits unless there are 
extenuating circumstances in which case the States can keep a little 
money back to decide to deal with the odd case that always comes up, 
that doesn't quite fit anybody's formula.
    The States, in turn, have to figure out how to work at the community 
level with the existing institutions, the educators, the welfare case 
workers, the job trainers, the job placement people, and by far most 
important, the private employer community, which includes not only 
people in free enterprise but also churches, nonprofits, people who are 
employers who are nongovernmental employers, to figure out how to move 
people from welfare to work.
    Now, this law isn't perfect, and I've said what I think is wrong 
with it, and I want to say a special thanks to at least two members of 
the Southern Governors, Governor George Bush and Governor Lawton Chiles, 
for agreeing with my position on the ill-advised nature of cutting off 
all benefits to all legal immigrants, no matter what happens to them. 
And I hope we can change that.
    But I signed this bill because it gives us an historic opportunity 
and, therefore, an historic responsibility to really change the culture 
of welfare. And I think we cannot minimize that. I just had the 
opportunity, as I said, to go with Mayor Cleaver and Congresswoman 
McCarthy over to visit with Clyde McQueen and Gayle Hobbs, who are here, 
and some people who have moved from welfare to work, and two employers 
who hired them. I want to tell their story; then I want to talk about 
where we go from here. But I'd like to ask them to stand up. I'll 
introduce them.
    Clyde McQueen is the director of Kansas City's Full Employment 
Council. Gayle Hobbs is the executive director of the Local Investment 
Commission. Let me introduce them all. Shaira Burriss is a 30-year-old 
former welfare recipient who is now earning quite a bit above the 
minimum wage at Arrow Fabricare and supporting two children. Birdella 
Smith is a woman I met here 2 years ago when I came to announce my 
welfare reform program. She has three sons--the oldest is a freshman at 
the University of Missouri, here in Kansas City--and she's now been 
working for 4 years. Cathy Romero is another former recipient I met in 
1994. She has a 5-year-old daughter who just started kindergarten. She 
dropped out of high school, was on welfare at 17, and she's now been 
working for several years. We also have three women that I met before 
here, Vicki Phelps, Arlenda Moffitt-Hayes, and Pamela Ruhnke; all of 
them are people who have worked very hard to make something of their 
    And I want to introduce two employers: Tom Davidson, who is the 
president of Davidson Archives, a records management storage business. 
And he pointed out, they do some work for the Federal Government that 
they won on bid. He has 25 employees; 5 of them came out of this 
program. Five of them moved from welfare to work. We thank him. And 
Shaira Burriss' employer's here, Bruce Gershon, who is the president of 
Arrow Fabricare, an 80-year-old family dry-cleaning business and one of 
the first to take part in this program. Let's give them all a hand, and 
I'll tell you what they did. [Applause]
    I met some of these ladies 3 years--2 years ago when I announced my 
welfare reform plan

[[Page 1522]]

in Kansas City at the Commerce Bank, which is the place where Harry 
Truman had his first job. A good place to honor work. And all of these 
people have shown remarkable, good citizenship and vision, those who 
have moved from welfare to work, and those who have helped them to do 
    I heard them talking again today, and I was reminded, as so many of 
us have been who have worked on this problem for many years, that the 
people who live on welfare want to change it more than anybody else. 
Everyone knows that it's better to work than to be trapped in 
    Secondly, I'm reminded that it is not as simple as it sounds. First 
of all, there has to be a job there. Secondly, people who very often 
have been isolated for virtually their entire adult lives, oftentimes 
isolated from mainstream education, certainly isolated from mainstream 
work, very often not having adequate work habits--and as some of these 
ladies explained to me today, they've got a group here now helping women 
move into the work force just to make sure they know how to do an 
interview and have clothes that would not disqualify them from getting a 
job when they show up, and other very basic things.
    We see in what they have done that if you have real flexibility and 
a grassroots commitment that encompasses the entire community, you can 
do something.
    Now, I want to emphasize one thing in particular to explain what 
they've done here and then to ask you to imagine how this can be done in 
every State, in every community in America, and how we can get even more 
business leaders involved.
    Missouri asked for a welfare waiver to be able to do two things: One 
is to convert the welfare check into a wage supplement to private sector 
employers, and to say to employers--they say to employers, ``If you will 
hire this person off welfare in a real new job, not just replacing 
somebody you've let go or replacing someone who has moved but a real new 
job, you can have the welfare check for 4 years as a wage supplement, 
for up to 4 years for this employer. If you'll leave the new job in 
place, even if this particular person goes on to do something else with 
her life, you can have that slot and the wage supplement for 10 years.''
    Now, you have to pay a lot more than the wage supplement, but you 
don't have to pay what you would otherwise have to pay. And we're going 
to give you the wage supplement because we want to help you move someone 
from welfare to work, and we understand that there may be a lot of extra 
costs to you in training people and helping to work with them and making 
sure that they can balance the demands of family and work and move out 
of relative isolation into the world of mainstream work and be a part of 
your employee team. That's what they're doing. They're also saying you 
can have Medicaid coverage for up to 4 years here, which I think is the 
most exceptional health care coverage offered by any State in the 
country, Governor.
    But it is working. In Missouri, also--and this is something that 
because there are a lot of single men who aren't on welfare but are not 
in the work force, who are eligible for food stamps but not welfare--in 
Missouri they also have the right to take the food stamp check going to 
single men and use that for a wage supplement, to do exactly the same 
thing. And they have had astonishing success here. But I think it is 
because they're all working together at the grassroots community level.
    I met their board, their employees at the Full Employment Council. 
It's a one-stop place: If you need to get your GED, you can get it; if 
you need some basic job training, you can get it, in terms of how to do 
the interviews; if there are other sort of support services your family 
needs because you have certain problems, you can get them there. And the 
employers are heavily involved.
    But I bring this out today because the Governors sought this welfare 
reform law, and I gladly signed it. And now--we have now moved welfare 
beyond the realm of political rhetoric and blame, and it's no longer a 
question of who to blame. It is entirely a question of what are we going 
to do. And if you look at the hiring goals here, the reward States get 
for placing more people from welfare to work, but the enormous problem 
States will find if you wind up having people running out of their 2-
year time deadline and they've never been to work, we have all got to 
get it in gear. I think you can make a compelling case that if we can 
keep the economy strong, the most significant responsibility the 
Governors have shouldered in many years is the responsibility to design 
a system that will permit every community to succeed in doing this in 
the way Kansas City has suc-

[[Page 1523]]

ceeded because of the work these people have done. It is a huge 
    And it seems to me that at least we have to begin to say every State 
ought to take the income supplement idea and put it at the heart of the 
new plan. Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, and at 
least six other States have asked to do this; it's an important part of 
the Wisconsin plan.
    But if you think about it, there's not enough money around to create 
enough public jobs to solve this welfare problem. Plus which what we 
really want is for people on welfare to be part of the mainstream 
economy. So it's better if--I mean, the ideal thing would be that every 
private employer in the country, not just in the free enterprise system 
but every church of any size, every nonprofit of any size, everybody 
could just take one person and that person's family and say, ``You will 
be part of our work family now,'' or ``We're going to go forward 
    Now, that's what these employers have been willing to do. And what 
they got from their Governor and their local Full Employment Council was 
what used to be the welfare check. ``Here's the welfare check, you add 
to it, you've got to pay them a minimum''--Congresswoman McCarthy was in 
the legislature at the time Missouri's plan was adopted, and I think she 
said they had a minimum payment of $6 an hour at that time, because that 
was--and I think the Missouri check worked out to be, I don't know, 2\1/
2\ or 3 dollars an hour, something like that--a substantial support 
system. But as the employers were telling you, most of these people, 
they do so well, they pretty soon are earning more money on their own 
merit and going forward and moving to greater independence and going 
beyond that.
    You think about it, just think what it would mean to this country if 
every employer the size of these two said, ``I will take one slot. I 
will create one new job for a decade if you will give me the income 
supplement for a decade. And I'll work one person for 4 years, another 
one for 4 years, another one for 2 years''--that's the Missouri system--
``or, if I can move 10 people through this entry level slot, I'll move 
10 through.''
    But we need to break this responsibility down to think about how we 
can make it a good deal for the business community, a good deal for 
local community life, a good deal for the States, a good deal for 
America, and most importantly, a good deal for the people who are trying 
to move from welfare to work, so we don't wind up with a bunch of 
nightmares saying, ``We've passed all these tough laws. We didn't create 
the jobs, and here are all these people in the street with no right to 
get any help.''
    We have to prove all the skeptics wrong. But one thing I know, I 
know that the employers of this country want to do this. I believe that 
every employer who has ever said a disparaging word about the welfare 
system, which includes every one of us, including me, should be 
challenged to assume the responsibility to help be a part of the 
solution to this problem.
    I have proposed some more things that we can do at the national 
level to give special tax credits available only to people who are moved 
from welfare to work or to single, idle men moved from food stamps to 
work. We're going to have to move about a million people, a million more 
people, at least a million more people from welfare to work by the year 
2000 to come anywhere close to meeting the requirements of the law, and 
to avoid causing either a humanitarian crisis for the States or an 
enormous drain on your own treasuries. So I would start with that.
    I propose also to give private placement firms the kinds of things 
that many Americans use to find better jobs and many employers use to 
hire people, a bonus if they help to find permanent jobs for people who 
are moving from welfare to work. I want to give the communities that are 
hardest hit some resources, extra resources to help deal with this 
problem. But the most important thing, I will say again, is establishing 
a State and then a community-based partnership with the private sector 
and with others who have to fill the needs of people who are trying to 
move from welfare to work.
    I'd like to salute two prominent business leaders in this State who 
heard the challenge that I issued and have expressed a willingness to 
step forward and take it. Because they represent larger business 
organizations, they are in a position to do even more. Robert Shapiro, 
the CEO of Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis, and Bill Esrey, the 
CEO of Sprint, based here in Kansas City, are with us today. They have 
made a commitment to fully participate through their companies in this 
program. I'll explain a little more about that in a minute, but I'd like 

[[Page 1524]]

ask them to stand up and be recognized, please. [Applause] Thank you.
    The day after my speech on this in Chicago, Bob Shapiro asked all 
his division heads to study every aspect of the company to see what they 
could do to help people on welfare find jobs at Monsanto. They're coming 
up with a plan for their own operations, and even more, they're asking 
their suppliers and other business contacts to do the same. That is 
amazing stuff.
    Bill Esrey's company has already begun hiring people off welfare. 
Its headquarters here in Kansas City, they're a part of this revolution 
that's going on here in Kansas City. He wants Sprint to be a part of 
meeting this challenge all around the country. So I'm proud that Sprint 
is announcing today that it will provide an 800 number that any employer 
in America can call to find out what he or she can do to help move 
people from welfare to work in their own employment.
    Thank you both.
    Here you have two CEO's of major Fortune 500 companies who believe 
this challenge is so important to our future that they are willing to 
help recruit other CEO's and other companies to take part in this 
effort. I have asked them to gather a small group of them who are ready 
to rise to this challenge to come to the White House in the next few 
weeks to discuss with me how we can get businesses all across America to 
hire people off welfare.
    But the Governors will be able to do this more--more because they 
know personally all the heads of all of the biggest companies in their 
State, more because they know personally the heads of smaller and 
medium-sized companies and the organizations that are part of them.
    And again I will say, I am convinced that there are literally 
hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people out there who feel that 
it is part of their civic responsibility to help do something about 
this, who really do understand, even if they don't know all of the 
details of the welfare reform law, that we had changed this big time. 
And now, we really are saying, ``If you're able-bodied, there's just 
only so long you can draw a check without doing something for it,'' and 
we are finally going to change that, but the Government cannot create 
these jobs, and we want to, anyway, change the environment in which 
people are living. That's what Birdella said when she was talking this 
morning. She said, ``You can't imagine what it's like when you get in a 
neighborhood and a few people move from welfare to work, and the kids 
have pride and the crime rate goes down and everything gets better at 
the same time.''
    And I think people know this at a visceral level. So I would say 
that while this is the biggest challenge that Governors have faced in a 
very long time, it is also the biggest opportunity, and it has the 
potential to bring us together across party lines, racial lines, income 
lines, you name it--whatever that's dividing us today, we can forget 
about it because all of us believe that this ought to be done, that at 
the core of human nature is the need to be useful and productive.
    At the core of the desire to be a good parent is the desire to be a 
good role model and to be able to prove that you can do something that 
matters. And one of our employers said today that work was really a part 
of the essence of life and that it was a great privilege to be an 
employer just to give somebody a chance to be an employee, to fulfill a 
big part of what being alive is all about. I think that feeling is out 
there in this country.
    And so I come here today to say to the Governors: You asked for 
this, and now you've got it. [Laughter] I know that Tennessee is one of 
the States in the Southern Governors' Conference, and that very famous 
philosopher from Tennessee, Chet Atkins--[laughter]--who occasionally 
plays guitar as well, and I think is a good Republican, Governors--I 
once heard him say, ``You know, you've got to be careful what you ask 
for in this old life. You might get it.'' [Laughter]
    So we asked for it. And I wanted it. And now we have it. And so it's 
no longer a political issue. It's no longer occasions for finger-
pointing, and none of our one-liners amount to a hill of beans anymore. 
We need to all throw away our welfare speech. The only thing that 
matters now is whether we are going to give the opportunity--not the 
guarantee but the opportunity--for dignity and purpose and meaning in 
life, to help more people live up to their God-given potential as 
parents and as workers.
    And to do it, it is plain that we're going to have to learn from 
people who know what they're doing. These people in Kansas City, they 
know what they are doing. It is miraculous what they are doing. They 
know what they are doing. These business leaders, they know what they're 
doing; they can imagine. They get paid running

[[Page 1525]]

these big companies; they have to think about what this country's going 
to be like 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now. And nobody who's thinking 
about the 21st century wants America to have a big permanent under 
class. Nobody wants us to continue to split apart in terms of income.
    Anybody that can visualize the future wants us to be coming together 
and celebrating our diversity and having it be a source of strength and 
seeing every child have a real chance and believe that he or she has a 
chance to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities. That's 
what this is all about.
    This is the best chance we've had to do that in a long time. That's 
all this bill does: It gives us a chance. If we fail, it will exact a 
higher price from us than the old system did. But the old system would 
never have given us a chance to succeed, and that's why I took the 
gamble I did. I'm glad I did, and I believe if we work together and 
learn from those who have done it, in about 4 or 5 years we're all going 
to be very proud of what each of us did to make real welfare reform a 
reality, because there will be more people, like these fine women 
sitting here on this front row who can stand up and say, ``I'm earning a 
living; I'm supporting my child. I live in a crime-free neighborhood. My 
child goes to a good school where the parents participate, and our 
country is coming together because our communities are coming together 
around people who are given a chance to succeed if they're 
responsible.'' That's my dream, and I think we can make it happen.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:20 p.m. at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. In 
his remarks, he referred to Governors Mel Carnahan of Missouri, George 
Allen of Virginia, Paul E. Patton of Kentucky, Gaston Caperton of West 
Virginia, Zell Miller of Georgia, David M. Beasley of South Carolina, 
Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, George W. Bush of Texas, and Lawton Chiles of 
Florida; Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II of Kansas City; and musician Chet