THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much,
Tommy. I want to thank you all for coming, and welcome to the people's house.
Today, we're here to talk about the inspiring commitment and persistence of
Americans who left welfare for better lives. And we're here to talk about the
compassion of American companies which hired them. And we're here to talk about
the next actions we must take in welfare reform to encourage work and to
I want to thank Tommy for his
leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services. I knew he was going
to be a good one, because I saw what he did as governor of Wisconsin, and he
brought that very same skills of leadership and vision to Washington.
And I want to thank another member
of my Cabinet who is here as well, Elaine Chao. Thank you for coming, Elaine;
she is head of the Department of Labor.
I want to thank Rodney Carroll,
President and CEO of the Welfare to Work Partnership. I want to thank Rodney
for his vision, I want to thank Rodney for his successes. I want to thank the
dozens of welfare to work stories, the actual examples of people who made the
firm and solemn commitment to work hard to better themselves. I want to thank
you for your example, and I want to thank you for making America a better
I want to thank all the company
executives who are here, those who have made the commitment to serve their
community by serving a -- by helping a neighbor help themselves. My goal is to
produce a bipartisan piece of legislation that will continue the good reforms
of the 1996 welfare law.
I've invited members of the Senate
and the House here today. The House is working up -- working on making, is
getting this bill ready. They're marking it up as we call, say it here in
Washington. The Senate sent fine of its three members -- Senators Breaux,
Santorum and Bayh, and I want to thank the three United States senators for
joining us today. Glad you're here. You can clap for them. (Applause.) Just
remember that on the next vote. (Laughter.)
As Tommy said, welfare reform is one
of the great success stories. I used to say it was conservative to change
welfare; it was compassionate to help people help themselves. Since the law
passed in 1996, welfare caseloads have dropped by more than half. And today,
5.4 million fewer people live in poverty, including 2.8 million fewer children
than in 1996. That's success. (Applause.)
That's success. No one can deny that
that has not been a successful piece of legislation. But the real success is
not found in numbers; not in found in the number of caseloads cut. That's just
a statistic. The real success is found in the number of lives which have been
changed, and changed for the better.
Real success is shown in the stories
of hope and dignity, of hard work and personal achievement. On stage with me
are four success stories. Tiffany Smith and Christine Anthony, Emory Bent and
Bernadine Murphy. They are inspiring to me, and they will be inspiring to Americans
when they hear their stories. Because they are people who know how to persevere
against tough odds and dedicated themselves to climbing that hill, to defeating
those odds. And I'm so grateful that they're here, and I want to talk about two
of the stories.
Emory Bent, he was unemployed. He
was homeless. And he was struggling with drugs. The staff at Project Renewal in
New York provided Emory with counseling, support groups, food and shelter, job
training and education. In other words, somebody decided that Emory needed some
help. In Emory's words, "Project Renewal helped me be a man and stand on
my own two feet and be responsible for myself." Once he was hired by Home
Depot, Emory said, "I felt like I was a member of society." Emory
will be completing his college degree this year. (Applause.)
What's not said on this piece of
paper and what I've discovered since I met Emory in the Blue Room, here in the
White House, is even though the program helped, he is more than willing to give
praise to an Almighty.
AUDIENCE: Hallelujah, amen.
THE PRESIDENT: A faith-based
initiative helped, as well. You see, when you help people change their hearts,
it can help them change their lives. And sometimes we need a power bigger than
government or the private sector to help in our lives. And Emory is a walking
testimony of what can happen.
And then there's Bernadine Murphy of
Chicago. She lived in a homeless shelter, too. In this case, she had three
children with her. It was just three years ago that she was in a homeless
shelter. She also struggled with drug abuse, and her self-esteem was, as she
put it, "nonexistent."
Bernadine enrolled in a 13-week
training program, spent 11 weeks working part-time with a mentor. Somebody who
put an arm around her. In her words, "The course made me feel like I was
working towards something, and helped me begin the long process of rebuilding
my self-esteem." That's what she said.
Thanks to the course, Bernadine
moved into her own apartment -- not somebody else's, but her own -- and now
works at the law firm of Bellows & Bellows. (Applause.)
Standing next to Bernadine when I
went through the line was one of the partners at Bellows & Bellows. I said,
does she make a pretty good hand? -- that's Texan for is she a good worker?
(Laughter.) She said, really good. Really good.
Those are just two of the four
stories here today. Obviously emotional stories, and true stories. But they're
among the millions of stories that have taken place in America. They're a
tribute to the personal effort of those who leave welfare, and to the
organizations who've helped them, as well as the businesses that hired them.
I want to thank the Welfare to Work
Partnership, which is a national campaign that has rounded up and encouraged
over 20,000 businesses to provide more than 1.1 million jobs to former welfare
You know, up here in Washington,
there's a lot of talking that goes on. What we like to find are those who can
actually deliver, and this program has worked. It took a lot of talking, I'm
sure, to convince the businesses, the 20,000. But the amazing thing is the
results are fantastic.
There is a responsibility in America
if you're -- if you're running a business. You have a responsibility to your
employees, you have a responsibility to tell the truth when it comes to your
assets and your liabilities -- (laughter) -- and you have a responsibility to
be a good neighbor in your communities, in your cities, in your states, and in
our country. You have a responsibility, as far as I'm concerned. And part of
that responsibility is to give back. And one way you can give back is to help
hire people coming off welfare.
I urge people, I urge businesses to
join the Welfare to Work Partnership, or any like such partnership, so that
they can meet and realize the beauty of the stories that we just heard today.
It's part of being a good American citizen to reach out to a neighbor in need.
We're encouraged by the results of
the welfare law, but we're not content. There's more work to be done. We want
many more stories like those we've heard today. And so we will continue a
determined effort to bring opportunity and hope to all Americans; opportunity
and hope in parts of our country where opportunity and hope does not exist. And
it's important for Americans to understand there are pockets of despair in our
country, and we cannot rest so long as there are pockets of despair.
This year the 1996 welfare law must
be reauthorized by Congress. That means they've got to pass something like it
again. I propose spending a lot of money on welfare, to make sure that we can
help people help themselves -- spending $17 billion a year from 2003 to 2007,
the same level it was last year. But remember, the case loads are going down,
so we can keep the money the same, and the case loads are going down, it's a
generous commitment to helping people help themselves
But we need to do more than just
spend money. Money can help, of course, but money can't put hope into people's
hearts. And so I want to talk about four goals that I think are important for
the next bill. First, we've got to strengthen the work requirements for those
on welfare. We've got to aim high. We've got to expect the best.
Today's states, on average, must
require work of only 5 percent of adults getting welfare. That's not a very
high standard. I propose that every state be required, within five years, to
have 70 percent of the welfare recipients working. We promote work because it
is the pathway to independence, and the pathway to self-respect.
I don't think we would have seen the
emotion or heard the stories we heard today if it weren't for a desire to have
people work. Work is important. The welfare recipients must spend at least 40
hours a week in work, and in preparing for work. And that's important. Because
many adults on welfare need new skills, this plan will allow states to combine
work with up to two days each week of education and job training. In other
words, we recognize some can't immediately get into the workplace. I know that.
But part of the work requirement has got to be people helping themselves,
through education and job training.
People need -- some people need
intensive, short-term help, and I know that as well. And so our proposal offers
three months in full-time drug rehabilitation, or job training. Adolescent
mothers can meet their work requirements by attending high school.
But at the heart of all these
proposals is that a simple commitment to return an ethic of work as an
important part of the American life.
Secondly, we must encourage to work
-- we must work to encourage strong marriages and homes. Strong marriages and
stable families are good for children. And stable families should be a central
aim of welfare policy. We should not be afraid to promote families in America.
Building and preserving families is
not always possible, I know that. I understand that. But it should always be a
goal. Under my plan, up to $300 million will be available to states to support
good private or public programs that counsel couples on building a healthy marriage.
It recognizes that if there's a focus on marriage, that some marriages can be
I also believe it's very important
to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And
one way that works every time is abstinence. It's fail safe. (Laughter.) And it
makes sense for the federal government to aim for an ideal. So in my budget,
I've got $135 million for abstinence education programs. And not only will
abstinence work when it comes to unwanted pregnancy, it will work to fight
sexually transmitted diseases.
Thirdly, we must give states greater
flexibility in spending welfare money. Today, confusing and conflicting
regulations are keeping people from getting help. The intent is there, but
sometimes the regulatory world stands in between those who need help and the
ability to get help. And Tommy and I are committed to doing everything we can
to eliminate the bureaucratic hoops that people have to dive through. And so
the proposal I've submitted that will be in law will provide waivers to allow
states to redesign how the federal programs operate in their states.
Rather than dictate to states how
each major welfare and training program should operate, waivers would allow
states to be more innovative in providing care to low income families. Let me
put it to you this way. They do things a little differently in Louisiana where
Senator Breaux is from. And they do things differently than Pennsylvania or
Indiana. And it makes sense to trust the local folks to help design the
programs necessary to meet the local needs. And that's what we're doing.
And, finally, even as welfare
proceeds, it is incredibly important that we encourage the work of charitable
and faith-based groups to help people in need. America's neighborhood healers,
the social entrepreneurs of our country, fill needs that no welfare system can
possibly fill. And the government ought to be the ally of the faith-based and
We ought not to worry about faith in
our society. We ought to welcome it. We ought to welcome it into our programs.
We ought to welcome it in the welfare system. We ought to recognize the healing
power of faith in our society. We ought to say to churches and synagogues and
mosques, love -- if you want to love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved
yourself, start a program to help the homeless, to feed people.
I support legislation -- Rick
Santorum is the sponsor in the Senate, along with Joe Lieberman -- that
encourages charitable giving by allowing non-itemizers to deduct charitable
gifts, so that we can get more money in the hands of people who are trying to
help people in need.
We ought not to allow the federal
government to discriminate, when it comes to the distribution of federal money,
against faith-based grassroots programs. Faith-based initiatives is an integral
part of the next step of welfare reform, and I encourage the Congress -- the
Senate -- to get this bill moving. And if there's any differences with the
House, get it reconciled and get it on my desk. (Applause.) And the same on
I want to thank the senators for
being here. I want to thank the House members for working on it. We need to get
this done. It's for the good of the American people.
You know, this is a fabulous country
we have. I don't know what the enemy was thinking when they hit us. They must
have thought all we were going to was file a lawsuit or something. (Laughter.)
But we're not only going to fight
evil, we're not only going to fight evil with a focused effort to defeat
terrorism, but we're going to fight evil by doing some good in our country.
It's the millions of acts of kindness and compassion which take place every
single day which really define the America that we all know. It's those
business folks, people in the business community, in the private sector, who
said, what can I do to help? How can I help somebody? And when they end up
helping somebody who's been on welfare, they realize they're more help than the
person they're trying to help.
And that's what this is all about. I
want to thank you all again. I want to thank those who have had the courage to
stand up and seek self-esteem and independence. I want to thank the -- those
who have been mentors, and provided love in the darkest days of people who
wondered whether there was any hope in our society. And I want to thank
corporate America, those who have sat up and said, I'm going to be a good
citizen; not only am I going to provide for my shareholders and my employees,
I'm going to provide for people who need a helping hand.
It's such an honor to be here today.
Again, I want to thank the four good souls who have agreed to stand up here.
Thank you for your example. May God bless you all, and may God continue to
bless America. (Applause.)