[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[March 10, 1998]
[Pages 343-347]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Housatonic Community-Technical College in Bridgeport, 
March 10, 1998

    Thank you very much. First of all, I think Pamela did a terrific job with her speech. And secondly, when 
Anthony stood up, I thought to myself, in a 
few years Congressman Shays

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will be retiring, and I--[laughter]--may be looking at his successor 
right there. He was great. [Laughter] I love it. Senator Dodd, you might want to hire him as a consultant 
this year. [Laughter]
    Mr. Mayor, I'm delighted to be back in 
Bridgeport with you and Jennifer and the 
officials of the city government. I thank Senator Dodd and Congressman Shays and 
Representatives Barbara Kennelly and 
Rosa DeLauro for joining us today; Attorney 
General Blumenthal, Treasurer Paul 
Sylvester, Speaker Ritter and members of the legislature.
    Like Senator Dodd, I want to extend my condolences on behalf of 
Hillary and myself to the families of the victims of the shooting 
incident in Newington, and our prayers are with them.
    And like Senator Dodd, on a happier note, I want to congratulate 
Connecticut for getting both its teams into the NCAA. [Laughter] So did 
Arkansas. [Laughter] Thank goodness we don't have a contest anytime 
soon. And what Senator Dodd didn't say is that UCONN's men's team is 
actually playing in Washington this week. And so I think you all should 
keep score and see which Members of your congressional delegation show 
up to root the home team on. [Laughter]
    I'm glad to be back in Bridgeport. I really like this community, and 
I have admired the courage with which the people here have struggled in 
the tough years and moved to move the community forward. I should tell 
you, whenever I come to a place you all notice that there are a few 
members of the press who come with me. [Laughter] And sometimes it seems 
that we're on opposite sides of the line, but you should know that one 
member of the press, Larry McQuillan, who 
works for Reuters News Service and is actually the president of the 
White House Press Corps this year, is from Bridgeport. He will write a 
totally biased, favorable story--[laughter]--about this wonderful 
college and child care program today, I can assure you.
    I want to thank President Wertz for 
showing me around the school and the unbelievable art collection here, 
which you should be very proud of.
    And I want to thank Marie Nulty for taking 
me through the wonderful preschool program. In the Early Childhood Lab 
School's parent handbook, there is the following quote: ``A child is 
like a butterfly in the wind. Some can fly higher than others, but each 
one flies the best it can. Each one is special. Each one is different. 
Each one is beautiful.'' After going through this child care center, it 
seems to me that that is a motto that every teacher I saw lived and 
worked by, and that every child I met was made to feel special every 
    The reason I came here today is twofold: First of all, because of 
the extraordinary leadership for children, and especially on the child 
care center issue--child care issue, of Senator Dodd, along with the Members of your House delegation who are 
here who have been terrific on this issue; and second, because what I 
see here today is what I believe every child in America needs, and it's 
important that we graphically demonstrate to the country that with so 
many parents in the work force or going back to school, there is a 
crying unmet need--which the mayor graphically and numerically 
demonstrated in his remarks just here in Bridgeport--all over the 
country for the kind of high quality child care that you offer here.
    Today we have to make a commitment to extend that option to every 
family in America that needs it. I want to talk about what we in the 
Federal Government can do on our own to improve child care at Federal 
centers, but most importantly I want to talk about what Congress should 
do in the next 70 days to help every working family give their children 
the kind of child care we see here.
    As has been said already, these are good times for America. We have 
15 million new jobs, the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years, the 
lowest inflation rate in 30 years, the highest homeownership rate in 
history, the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years, the lowest crime rate in 
24 years. And I'm proud of it. These numbers only matter insofar as they 
reflect differences in the lives of ordinary Americans, a different life 
story that can be told. The reason I was proud to be introduced by 
Pamela Price is that she embodies the 
changing story of America over the last 5 years, and that's what we want 
for every American who's willing to work for it.
    In last year's historic balanced budget agreement we provided a 
child care tax credit of $500 per child for families; expanded health 
care coverage to 5 million more children in lower income working 
families who don't have access to it now; and perhaps most important, 
have virtually opened the doors of college to all Americans. For 
example--and you can compare

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it, what it means here at Housatonic--in the last years we have added 
300,000 work-study slots, hundreds of thousands of more scholarships; 
we've made the interest on student loans tax deductible; 100,000 young 
people have worked their way through college or earned money for college 
by serving in AmeriCorps in community service projects. You can now save 
for a college education in an IRA and withdraw from the IRA tax-free if 
the money is used for a college education. But most important, now there 
is a $1,500 tax credit--that's not a deduction, a credit--a reduction of 
your tax bill for the first 2 years of college, and a lifetime learning 
credit that is substantial but not quite that large for junior and 
senior years, for job training programs, for graduate schools. I think 
we can really say that insofar as community-based institutions like this 
are concerned, we have opened the doors of college to all Americans who 
are willing to work for it. And that is a profoundly important 
achievement for our country.
    Senator Dodd talked about what the Family and Medical Leave Act 
means. The American dream is now in reach for more and more families, 
and that is a very, very good thing. But as you heard Pamela say, what 
made all this work for her as she was struggling to put her life on 
track was knowing that her child would be in a safe, healthy, positive 
child care environment. And if we really want to open the doors of 
opportunity to all Americans, we not only have to finish our agenda of 
bringing job opportunities and business opportunities into every 
neighborhood and every city like Bridgeport in America, we have to make 
sure that if the jobs and the educational opportunities are open, the 
parents can actually go without having to worry that they're neglecting 
their children.
    We can never have a country that is fully successful if millions of 
people every day get up and look forward to a day in which they are 
terrified that they will have to make a choice between being a 
responsible parent and a good worker or a good student. If we have to 
choose, we lose. Society has no more important work than raising 
children. If everyone did that successfully, I think we would all agree 
we'd have less than half the problems we have today.
    On the other hand, this economic boom we celebrate was fueled by 
having nearly two-thirds of the American adults in the work force, the 
highest percentage of people in the work force in history. That's how 
you get a low unemployment rate. Well, by definition, a lot of those 
folks are parents with children who have to be supervised and nourished 
and supported and helped.
    So when you think about this child care issue, if you look at it the 
way I do, not just as President but as a parent and as someone who's 
worked all his life, I say to myself, we cannot have a country that asks 
people to make a choice between succeeding at home and succeeding at 
work, and insofar as we have to choose, we lose. When we know we can 
succeed at home and at work because of an effective child care center, 
every American wins. The country wins. We're stronger in the 21st 
century; our families are stronger; our economies are stronger; they 
reinforce each other. That's really what this child care issue is all 
    Now, we've worked hard on this for the last 5 years. We've helped a 
million more parents to pay--or the parents of a million more children 
to pay for child care. But obviously--remember the mayor's numbers for 
Bridgeport--there is a huge amount of work to be done here. And today 
we're releasing a report that confirms the overwhelming need still 
existing all across America. The report shows that States have come up 
with a lot of innovative ideas, and the Congress allocated $4 billion 
more to States for child care as a part of welfare reform. But even with 
all that, it is clear that the resources are simply not there yet to 
meet the needs of all the families in America. States have been forced 
to turn away literally thousands upon thousands of low-income families.
    In Connecticut, the State Child Care Bureau has to restrict its aid 
to families on welfare or teen parents in high school. They've actually 
stopped taking applications from families that are so-called ``working 
poor'' altogether.
    So here we are at a time of unprecedented prosperity, when people at 
the lower end of the income scale are finally beginning to get pay 
raises and have some security in their jobs, but we know they can't 
afford quality child care without help. So here we are at a time--the 
best of times for our country, and yet we still have millions of people 
getting up every day going to work worrying about their children. We are 
forcing them to make choices that no family should have to make, that no 
country should tolerate, and that we will pay for down the road sooner 
or later. So what we want to

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do is pay for it now, the right way, and have a good, positive 
    Now, let me say some of the things that I intend to do with the 
Federal child care centers. We care--the Federal Government cares in its 
child care centers for some 215,000 children, quite a few. We want them 
to be a model for the Nation. Today I'm going to direct my Cabinet to do 
four things:
    First, to make all the centers fully accredited by the year 2000. 
Now, what does that mean in terms of quality of facilities, training for 
workers, and child-to-staff ratios? Today, believe it or not, 76 percent 
of our military child care centers are already accredited, but only 35 
percent of our nonmilitary centers are. We'll make both categories 100 
percent in the next 700 days.
    Second, we have to make sure that all the centers conduct thorough 
background checks on workers. In too many States there is no checking to 
see if the people we trust with our children are even trustworthy in the 
eyes of the law. Connecticut is one of the few States that actually does 
require a criminal background check of child care workers. Every State 
should do it, and the Federal Government should certainly do it.
    Third, we have to make sure that all Federal workers know about all 
their child care benefits and options in the first place.
    And finally, we're going to do more work with the private sector to 
make Federal child care better and more affordable. If we do all that, 
there will still be millions of kids out there and their parents who 
need help. In the balanced budget I have presented to Congress for this 
year, I've proposed a comprehensive and responsible plan to strengthen 
child care. There will be other proposals to do the same thing.
    Now, Congress is only going to meet about 70 more days this year. I 
know you say, ``Well, it's only March,'' but anyway that's--in 
Washington, Congress plans to only sit about 70 more days. Now, there is 
enormous support, I believe, among people in both parties in our country 
and, I believe, among people in both parties in the Congress for taking 
action on child care. I have a plan, and there are others, which would 
double the number of children receiving child care subsidies, at a 
million or more new kids, give tax cuts to businesses which provide 
child care, expand child care tax credits to 3 million working families, 
and improve the standards of child care centers and provide more funds 
to train--adequately train--workers in child care centers.
    Now, we're not talking about peanuts here. Let me tell you what 
we're talking about. The tax credits that we will offer, if Congress 
would pass them, would mean that a family of four living on up to 
$35,000 a year that has high child care bills would not pay any Federal 
income tax. That would be a terrific incentive to help working families 
afford quality child care. And for lower income working families who 
don't owe any Federal income tax anyway, if we increase the block grant 
going to the States, it goes to subsidized care for lower income working 
families, plus the money that we have given the States for people moving 
from welfare to work--we will be able to make a huge dent in this 
    If Congress acts, we can make child care safer as well as more 
affordable. We can even give scholarships under our plan to talented 
caregivers to train more people. We also can expand after-school 
programs to keep 500,000 more kids, when they get a little older, off 
our streets and out of trouble after school. I think that's very 
important. As I said, there are only 70 days left. There are always, 
with something this big, some controversy around the edges of the issue. 
But all these things can be resolved if the Congress will make up its 
mind to act. Because these 70 days of meetings where they can vote will 
be spread over most of the year. There's still time for committee 
meetings, for staff to do their work, for all that kind of stuff to 
happen. We can do this. We do not need to wait another year just because 
this is an election year to pass this. We need to do this now.
    The other thing I want to say that's related to this, is that 
Congress must pass comprehensive tobacco legislation to reduce teen 
smoking and raise the price of cigarettes by up to a dollar and a half a 
pack, impose strong penalties on companies that continue to advertise to 
children, and give the FDA full authority to regulate tobacco products 
and children's access to them. The revenues we raise from the tobacco 
company would help to make a partial contribution to the child care plan 
that I have proposed as well.
    Again I say, there's some controversy--there's some issues that have 
to be resolved in this tobacco settlement, to get the legislation. But I 
want to, again, graphically illustrate--I just

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watched all those little kids in that room, those two rooms, these 
beautiful children--every single day, even though it is illegal in every 
State in America, 3,000 more children begin to smoke; 1,000 of those 
3,000 children will die sooner because of that decision. Hardly anybody 
becomes a chronic, lifetime smoker who does not start in their teenage 
    So I know there are only 70 days left, and I know this is a big 
bill. But I know that there are Democrats and Republicans in substantial 
numbers who want to do this. We should not let the calendar get in the 
way of the urgent need for action. We can pass the child care reforms, 
and we can fund them. And we can pass the tobacco legislation, and we 
must. Just think about it: 1,000 kids every day that wants--just like 
all these children did in here. Just think about it, every single day. 
There is no need to wait. There is no excuse for waiting. The time to 
act is now.
    I leave you with this thought. I'm glad you clapped when I said 
these are good times for America. And you ought to be proud of 
yourselves, because the whole country helped to create these good times. 
And the efforts that we make in different areas, from the economy to 
crime to welfare reform to early childhood to health and education, they 
all reinforce each other. But sometimes when times are good and people 
clap and they feel good, they relax. I tell you, when times are good but 
challenges are large and the future is coming at you like a fast train 
down a track--and that's how the 21st century is coming at you, with 
things changing more rapidly than ever before--then an obligation is 
imposed to use the good times to act, not to relax.
    So I say to all of you, the Members of Congress who are here are 
ready to act, so give them all a pat on the back, but do everything you 
can to send a clear and unambiguous signal that you do not want the 
election year to be a relaxation year; you want it to be a legislating 
year for the children of this country to make them stronger in the new 
century. After all, it's only 700 days away. Let's spend 70 days to make 
sure that in 700 days we'll have the healthiest, strongest children in 
the history of our Nation.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Performing Arts Building. 
In his remarks, he referred to Pamela A. Price, a student with a young 
daughter in the college's child care program, who introduced the 
President, and her teenage son, Anthony; Mayor Joseph P. Ganim of 
Bridgeport, and his wife, Jennifer; State Attorney General Richard 
Blumenthal; State Treasurer Paul Sylvester; Thomas D. Ritter, speaker, 
Connecticut House of Representatives; Janis M. Wertz, president, 
Housatonic Community-Technical College; and Marie Nulty, director, Early 
Childhood Laboratory School. The President also referred to a March 6 
incident in which a Connecticut State Lottery employee killed four 
coworkers at the headquarters building in Newington before killing