[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[August 4, 1998]
[Pages 1392-1395]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Anniversary of the Personal Responsibility and Work 
Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
August 4, 1998

    Thank you. Thank you very much, Vesta Kimble, for that fine 
statement and for the good work you do. And I welcome your colleagues 
and co-workers from Maryland here. I thank

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Congressman Levin and Congressman Roemer for coming. There was a vote in 
the House of Representatives which was concluded literally 2 minutes 
before we started this ceremony, and they got here as quick as they 
could. We welcome you and thank you for your role in welfare reform.
    I'd like to thank Secretary Herman and Secretary Shalala for the 
terrific job they have done and welcome all of you in the audience, 
including my good friend, Eli Segal, who founded our partnership with 
the business community, about which I'll say more later. The First Lady 
was recently--just a few moments ago meeting with members and, I think, 
maybe some former members of the DC control board. I know that some of 
them are here, and I welcome them as well.
    Two years ago, I stood with many of you in the Rose Garden and made 
the following statement: ``From now on, our Nation's answer to the 
problems of poverty will no longer be a never-ending cycle of welfare; 
it will be the dignity, the power, and the ethic of work. . . . We are 
taking an historic chance to make welfare what it was meant to be: a 
second chance, not a way of life.''
    As those of us who have been working for years and years to change 
the system know all too well, welfare had, in too many ways, failed our 
society and, more important, failed the millions of families it was 
designed to help. So in the Rose Garden, we came together 2 years ago to 
restore our basic bargain of providing opportunity to all those willing 
to exercise responsibility in turn. We ended welfare as we knew it and 
made way for a system based on the dignity of independence and the value 
of work.
    But I would also like to reiterate something Secretary Shalala said. 
We did not want to put poor people moving from welfare to work in the 
exact same position too many people who've always been in the work force 
find themselves, of having to choose between being a good worker and a 
good parent. So we said, ``Okay, we will require people who have to move 
from welfare to work, if they're able-bodied, to go to work. But we will 
leave their children with food assistance and guaranteed medical 
coverage, and we will invest more in child care and other family 
    Today we come here not only to observe this anniversary but to lay 
to rest the last vestige of the old system, an antiwork, antifamily 
provision that has deprived some two-parent families of their Medicaid 
coverage when a parent secures a full-time job.
    But first, on this important anniversary, I think it's important to 
recognize that this new strategy, this great new experiment that we 
launched 2 years ago, has already shown remarkable signs of success. Two 
years ago we said welfare reform would spark a race to independence, not 
a race to the bottom, and this prediction is coming true.
    According to the National Governors' Association, State investments 
in helping former welfare parents succeed at work have gone up by one-
third, and spending on child care has increased by one-half. And let me 
remind you, I believe this has happened partly because the Congress in 
the balanced budget amendment appropriated $3 billion for child care, 
but partly because there was a little-noticed provision in the welfare 
reform law which lets States keep the amount of money they were 
receiving for the welfare caseload in February of '94, when it had 
reached an all-time high. So as the caseloads go down, they can keep the 
money as long as they reinvest it in the potential of the families 
involved. And I think that was a very good thing to do.
    We also said back then that work should pay more than welfare. Last 
week the Urban Institute reported that family income goes up more than 
50 percent, on average, when parents move form welfare to part-time 
entry-level jobs and significantly more when they move up to full-time 
work. And I must say, I was especially pleased to note how helpful the 
earned-income tax credit is for families making this transition. In 
several States, it accounts for almost half the income gains.
    For those of you who may not know it, the earned-income tax credit 
is a tax cut to lower income working people that is especially generous 
to working families with children. We doubled it in 1993. And because of 
that provision, today it's worth a tax cut of approximately $1,000 a 
year to a family of four with an income of under $30,000 a year. 
Obviously, for people working for more modest wages than that, it means 
a very great deal.
    Today we have more good news. In a few moments, I will release our 
first annual report to Congress on welfare reform, precisely the kind of 
report we had hoped for 2 years ago. It shows that the number of welfare 

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entering the work force rose by nearly 30 percent in a single year. It 
reports that States are spending more per person on welfare-to-work 
efforts than they did 2 years ago, including health care, job training, 
job placement, child care, and job retention.
    Come in, Congressman Shaw, you're welcome. [Laughter] Thank you for 
the role you've played in welfare reform legislation. We're glad to see 
    It shows that more single parents are moving into the work force, a 
very significant statistic. And it confirms that the percentage of 
Americans now on welfare is at its lowest level since 1969, 29 years. 
There are other, more powerful signs of success that, of course, a 
report can't show. Too often we take for granted what it really means 
for a family to reconnect to the world of work. Work is more than a 
punchcard, more than a paycheck. It provides structure to a day, link to 
a society, dignity for a family. It can build self-confidence and self-
esteem. There is nothing like the pride in a child's eyes when he or she 
goes to school and can answer, often for the first time, what their 
parents do for a living.
    One of the most important ways we can now build on these everyday 
triumphs is to make absolutely sure that parents who do enter the work 
force can go to bed at night without worrying that they will lose health 
coverage for their families. That is why I'm proud to announce that the 
Department of Health and Human Services will revise its regulations to 
allow all States to continue to provide Medicaid coverage to two-parent 
families after a parent takes a full-time job. Believe it or not, under 
the old rules, adults in two-parent families who worked more than 100 
hours per month could actually be cut off Medicaid in many States.
    Perhaps no aspect of the old welfare system did more to defy common 
sense and insult our common values than this so-called 100-hour rule. 
Just think of the message it sent. It took away health care from people 
who secured a full-time job just as we were imploring everybody to move 
from welfare to work. Instead of rewarding stable families, it actually 
punished couples that work and work hard to stay together. Instead of 
demanding responsibility, it basically said a father could do more for 
his children's health by sitting at home or walking away than earning a 
    The 100-hour rule was wrong. Now, it and every other strand of the 
old welfare system are history. The remaining challenges are ones we all 
have to accept. All of us, the public, private, religious, nonprofit 
sectors, have an obligation to continue helping all former welfare 
recipients not only find but stay in those jobs.
    First, we must continue to offer States and communities the tools 
they need to promote work. Today we will release $60 million more in 
welfare-to-work grants to States to help mothers and fathers facing the 
most significant employment hurdles. And I also want to call on Congress 
to fully fund my plan to provide housing vouchers for welfare recipients 
who need to move closer to their place of work.
    Some recent studies, including some coming out of New York, show 
that the effects of welfare reform in terms of people being able to move 
into the workplace have been quite uneven, depending upon the level of 
preparation of the people on welfare for the work force and their level 
of isolation from available jobs. So these are important next steps.
    Second, the private sector, the true engine of job creation in our 
country, must continue to do its part. Listen to this: Last year our 
welfare-to-work partners, who were mobilized by Eli Segal, as I said 
earlier, hired more than 135,000 former welfare recipients. I have asked 
them to hire another 270,000 by the end of this year. Thank you, Eli, 
but you have to do more. [Laughter]
    Third, we must continue to welcome former welfare recipients into 
the Federal family work force. Today we released new data showing that 
the Federal Government has hired more than 5,700 former welfare 
recipients in just the past year. That means we're well over half the 
way toward our goal of hiring 10,000 by the year 2000.
    Fourth, let me say again, I think it's important that we do more to 
bring the benefits of this economic revival our country is enjoying into 
isolated urban and rural areas where free enterprise has not yet 
reached. A lot of the people who are still stuck on welfare are 
physically separate from the job availability. And I have asked the 
Congress to approve a second round of empowerment zones, to approve a 
whole range of initiatives, and Secretary Herman and Secretary Cuomo's 
budget designed to create jobs principally in the private sector in 
isolated inner-city and rural neighborhoods. So I hope that

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will be a part of the work we conclude in the days remaining in this 
congressional session.
    Welfare reform itself was a bipartisan effort. It became an American 
issue. Now, providing jobs and opportunity and new businesses and new 
free enterprise in these neighborhoods that still have not felt the 
economy should also be an American issue.
    We have now the lowest unemployment in 28 years, the lowest 
inflation in 32 years, the highest homeownership in history. Wages are 
on the rise for our families after 20 years of stagnation. This is our 
window of maximum opportunity to make sure every poor person in America 
stuck on welfare has a chance to be a part of America's future and to 
share in the American dream. If we can't do it now, when our economy and 
our prospects and our confidence are so strong, then when?
    Now we have jobs waiting to be filled in almost every community. 
I've been working with people here in Washington, DC--there are hundreds 
of thousands of jobs in information technology-related fields open 
today, everywhere from Silicon Valley to the suburban areas of the 
Nation's Capital. If we make the best use of this time, we can change 
the whole culture of poverty and long neglected neighborhoods. We can 
help millions more people ensure that their children will be raised in 
homes full of hope and pride based on dignity and work.
    To all of you who have made this day come to pass, who have played a 
role in the progress of the last 2 years, and to all of you who are 
committed to keeping on until the job is done, I extend the thanks of 
our Nation. Great job. Let's do better.
    Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:15 p.m. in the East Room at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Vesta Kimble, deputy director, 
Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, MD; and Eli Segal, 
president and chief executive officer, Welfare to Work Partnership. The 
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, 
Public Law 104-193, was approved August 22, 1996.