THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES DONNA SHALALA
The Briefing Room
4:07 P.M. EST
SECRETARY SHALALA: Thank you very much. I did once ask my Lebanese grandfather why it was I had an Irish last name. He said just tell people there was an Irish crusader that went to Lebanon and messed up. (Laughter.)
I'm here to talk about the President's radio address, which you'll be getting copies of shortly. It's on child support enforcement which is a very critical part of his own recommendations on welfare reform.
The Republican bill does now have part of our recommendations on child support enforcement. In fact, if the President's recommendations were put in place we're releasing today numbers that indicate women and children would be able to get $24 billion over a 10-year period -- that's $24 billion that they're not now getting that we would be able to collect in child support enforcement.
The last piece that we want this bipartisan effort on child support to put in place is license -- professional licenses, driver's licenses. We believe that it's extremely important that these licenses are part of the enforcement activities that states are able to use to make sure that deadbeat parents take the responsibilities.
If the license piece was put in place, it would account for $2.5 billion that would be able to be collected over a 10-year period of time. Just to give you a feel for the impact on welfare payments alone, go back to my original number, which was $24 billion collected over 10 years if we put all the child support enforcement in place that the President has recommended -- $4 billion of that would go for people that are currently being paid by the welfare system in the United States.
That tells you two stories: First, that there is a significant amount of money that would not be expended on welfare in this country -- $4 billion -- if we had child support enforcement in place; and second, that there's $20 billion in addition to that out there for people who aren't on welfare that aren't getting enough money for their families.
So child support enforcement, which the President is talking about, is not simply an issue of welfare reform. It's an issue for hundreds of thousands of people over the next 10 years, particularly children, and mothers with very young children that aren't getting proper support because parents aren't taking their responsibilities. We believe that all four -- all five pieces of child support should be put in place -- streamlining the paternity establishment system; new hire reporting, so when an employer hires someone they send in the information so we can track someone, particularly those who change jobs regularly to escape child support; uniform interstate child support laws that are very important because of deadbeat parents that escape across state boundaries; computerized statewide collections; and, finally, the license piece, driver's licenses, professional licenses.
When Maine sent a letter to all 20,000 people, deadbeat parents, they got a very high percentage of them to come in because the letter said, you have the following professional licenses, you have a driver's license; that is now in jeopardy unless you walk in the door and get up to date in your child support payments.
The details of this are in the President's address, which you'll get shortly; that is, listing all the pieces that we'd like in child support. The important points here are that there's a lot of money out there, billions of dollars, that is not now being collected. We have an uneven system. No state is able to do it alone. We need a combination of a national system and beefing up state systems to make sure we collect every dollar.
The fundamental principle here is responsibility -- that both parents take responsibility; that government not be asked to pay when parents have jobs and are simply trying to escape responsibility. And that flows all the way through the President's own welfare reform proposals that we set up last year. The child support piece has been bipartisan, and we hope that we're able to work out the last piece, the licensing piece being put in place.
Q Are the other four parts now in there?
SECRETARY SHALALA: The other four parts are now in there. It has taken a bipartisan effort to do it. They were not in the original Contract. The Democrats were able to build a coalition to get the other four parts in. We're trying now to get the last piece in.
Q Ms. Shalala, wouldn't the license provision be one of those unfunded mandates the President's been railing about and going to sign legislation about next week?
SECRETARY SHALALA: No. Actually, I don't think the states consider it that. There are resources being provided as part of the bill to help the states to beef up their computer systems. So the money is accompanying it. This is a provision that's supported by all the governors. It has long had bipartisan support on the Hill, and it's time that we simply put it in place.
Q Is the administration supporting Representative Nathan Deal's kind of compromise or substitute welfare reform bill? Surely, you want more out of the House vote next week than just this piece. You don't like what the Republicans are likely to pass, right?
SECRETARY SHALALA: I think that we've said repeatedly that we don't intend to issue specific pronouncements this early in the process. What we've done is laid out the President's principles as outlined in his first -- in the bill he introduced last year, that we expect strong work requirements, that we want parental responsibility be part of the bill, that we want a strong teenage pregnancy piece as part of the bill.
All the alternative bills in one way or another address some of the pieces, but we're not taking specific positions on these bills. What we're going to continue to do is to make sure that the President's principles, including tough child support enforcement, are our yardsticks. And we'll be judging the products as they're moving along. We also believe that this is very early in the process.
Q But there is one bill, one Republican bill that right is going to floor, will be voted on. Does that bill meet the President's standards?
SECRETARY SHALALA: It does not at this point in time. It is in the process of being amended. It will be amended on the floor. We've indicated in our own analysis what problems we have in the bill, that it's weak on work, that it's tough on kids, that doesn't have all the pieces in child support enforcement that we want it to have, that it's simply awful to teenagers. And not only we, but pro-life groups, including major leaders of the Catholic Church, have expressed the same strong views about the way in which children are treated in the bill.
But, again, we're early in the process. We're going to fight every step of the way -- on the floor of the House, as bills move from the House and as the Senate begins its deliberations. I testified at length on Friday before Senate Finance. We're a long way away from making a final judgment on individual bills. What we're going to continue to go back to is the principles that the President has laid out.
Q The administration seems to be in a mode of strictly reactive, that you're panicking every time something happens on the Hill, and you've lost the initiative in terms of formulating your own ideas -- and especially in fighting. You have more fights than the President seems to have in terms of fighting for the social programs that have been so inherent over the last 50 years.
SECRETARY SHALALA: I think that the -- I think that's actually unfair, Helen. I think, number one, we've been not reactive. It is true that the Republicans now have the leadership, but we, in fact, laid out and have stuck to the principles. We laid out an extensive bill, a comprehensive welfare reform bill, and then have stuck to those principles.
Everything that has been going on in the committees -- we've worked with the Democrats. We've worked with them as they've offered amendments and offer changes in the bills. But we have a framework which everyone knows about, about what we'd like to get. And the President has articulated that framework over and over again. We've made it very clear that we opposed beating up on kids in this country, cutting them off from access from programs. And it is true that our language is strong. There's no question that our language is strong. But that's because the differences between us and these proposals is so fundamental. And, frankly, it is much easier to lay out the differences between our positions and the Contract positions, because they're so fundamentally different in terms of how we see this country and how we think the national government ought to behave in relationship to children.
Q Secretary Shalala, although, as you say, it's early in the process, is there not a lot of veto bait in the Republican proposal as it stands when you look at the food stamp provision, the school lunch provision, some of the other ideas that they have?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, if there's not -- I would not describe it a veto bait. I'd describe us as having very serious problems about those proposals, because they're so tough on kids, because they take away the safety net that we have had consensus on in this country, particularly in relationship to our most vulnerable citizens. And I realize that it's -- it may be clearer in a lead to be able to use the word veto, but we're way beyond that now. What we're talking about is a buildup of a series of actions in that Contract that changes fundamentally the way we talk about the role of government and the way we have defined ourselves as Americans.
Q Are you reluctant -- you're obviously reluctant to say, then, that the President would veto this in it's present form?
SECRETARY SHALALA: I'm not reluctant to say, I won't say it.
Q Why not?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Because he hasn't said it to me. Because he hasn't made those kinds of decisions. When he says it to me or to Leon, you'll hear it either from him or from one of us.
He can't make that decision at this point in time. We are so early in the process. And, remember, the Republicans started with one set of things in their Contract they've changed at least five or six times. They're making amendments, they're accepting amendments, they're making changes. So why should we make a decision right now about whether we're going to veto what's there when it's moving in front of our eyes. And in some cases it's moving in directions that we think are positive. We ought to recognize that and keep fighting.
Q As a matter of fact, aren't you really pretty optimistic that the license provisions will get in the bill and get passed?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, to the extent that some of these issues are understandable, and to the extent that they're bipartisan, -- Olympia Snowe and Marge Roukema have fought for most of their careers for very strong child support enforcement. The Women's Caucus of the Congress, the bipartisan caucus, has long favored these provisions that have real enforcement and real teeth into them.
Do we have some hope? We hope so. And that's the way we argued for child support enforcement from the beginning when it was left out of the original Republican bills.
Q You've been speaking in rather general terms in saying that the bill is very objectionable. Could you specify one or two provisions that you consider to be among the worst?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, I think we object to cutting teenagers off and their children, from cash assistance. We believe that moving from entitlements to block grants is a movement that not only hurts low-income folks, but hurts workers, because entitlements are essentially a safety net for American workers. They have worked well for people who are laid off for short periods of time, who live from paycheck to paycheck. They have protected states economically.
We have objected to cutting back on the programs and setting limits on the resources available, so they actually, while they are increases on the surface, cutting back below the rate of inflation and growth are, in fact, decreases. Whether it's child nutrition -- we object to cutting off national standards in child nutrition, because we believe that those national standards are, in fact, quality assurance systems that have been put in place out of bipartisan consensus over the years to make sure that when we pay for food, it is food that actually improves the nutrition of American children.
We strongly object to rescissions that move on programs that provide services for women and infants -- the WIC program.
Cumulatively, this is an attack on children. It's also an attack on working parents. When you move from -- a lot of people have talked about this in its relationship to poor families, but when you think very clearly through what's happening, if you don't put in child support enforcement, what you're affecting when you look at the numbers is not simply those on welfare, but working parents that are trying to the right thing. When you switch from entitlements to block grants, what you're doing is hurting those who work, who play by the rules, who need short-term assistance, that go to get cash assistance or to food stamps because they -- or nutrition assistance of some kind until they can get their next job.
Q Have you calculated how many people would be deprived of cash assistance or food stamps if the move was made to go to block grants?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes, we actually -- we have some of those calculations which we can provide, and we've provided them in other sources. And I'll make sure they get to you. The fact is, these bills have moved in front of us. They've been mush for a while, so we keep upgrading our calculations and we do have some calculations on the numbers. We have calculations on some of the rescission bills, too.
Q The people who don't want to include that last piece and give the states requirement, to put it on the states to require the lifting of licenses, what's the philosophical argument that they make?
SECRETARY SHALALA: I know of no philosophical argument other than leave it to the states. It's the same kind of argument for those who have suggested that -- and this is our most fundamental problem with the welfare bills that are moving up -- they don't have strong enough work requirements.
And when you don't have strong work requirements, and you say, leave it to the states, then look at what the states have done without very strong work requirement. They have very different levels of commitment. And if you really want welfare reform, we're talking about welfare reform for every state, not for one state. And weak work requirements have to be the centerpiece in looking at what they've done. What the President wants is strong work requirements, and that's the centerpiece of his own proposal.
I'll take one more if there is one more.
Q Does the license lifting provision cover press passes? Is that a license?
SECRETARY SHALALA: I think it should. (Laughter.) I mean, it seems to me that's a professional pass. It may cover the engineering licenses.
Q Just for the record, would you define strong work requirements?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes. I think that what we've described and what was in the original bill were work requirements that were way below the existing 1988 law. And what the President would like is every eligible person moving into work within a relatively short period of time, and I think the most recent numbers on their work requirements are about 17 percent. Currently, the work requirements are about 11.5 percent, and their work requirements for their first year is below what the current work requirements are. That's not serious.
We get serious when we move over a relatively short period of time the majority of eligible people into work. And when you're talking about very low percentages of work requirements, you're not serious.
Q And a relatively short period of time is how long?
SECRETARY SHALALA: I think a few years, depending on what your funding is. We ought to give the governors a few years to move people, most of the eligible population into work.
Q Like three or four?
Q Two years?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, what we want to do is to move everybody by the end of the century into work, and that depends on what resources are available.
Q Do you have the jobs for them?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, two kinds of jobs in our bill. First, private sector jobs, and then if private sector jobs are not available, public sector jobs for short periods of time in the transition while they're looking for a private sector job.
Q And who will put the money up for the public jobs?
SECRETARY SHALALA: In our bill, we do.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END4:25 P.M. EST