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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 9, 1995
                             TO THE NATION
                            The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. As a candidate for President, I pledged to end welfare as we know it. And as President, I've been doing everything in my power to keep that pledge.

Earlier, for more than 15 years, first as Governor of Arkansas and later when I became President, I have always felt it was critically important to fix our broken welfare system. It doesn't honor our values of work and family and personal responsibility. Well, it's been a long time coming, but finally the Senate is taking up this issue.

Meanwhile, over the last two and a half years, while I've been urging Congress to act, my administration has worked as hard as we can to change the welfare system by executive action in a way that honors the values most Americans hold dear -- work responsibility and family. We've put tough child support enforcement at the center of the national debate. Our administration collected a record level of child support in 1994 -- $10 billion. And I signed a tough executive order to crack down on federal employees who owe child support.

We've also cut through federal red tape to speed up welfare reform all around the country by approving experiments in a record 34 states. Just through these experiments, 7 million recipients of welfare around the country are now being required to work, pay child support, live at home and stay in school, or earn a paycheck from a business that pays them with money that used to be spent on food stamps and welfare. Now, I have told all 50 states they can have these welfare reforms immediately, within 30 days, just by asking.

Next week, it's the Senate's turn to do its part. The current system must be replaced. Instead of requiring people to work, now it penalizes people who go to work. Instead of strengthening families, now it gives teenagers a separate check to leave home, leave school and set up their own households. Instead of demanding responsibility, it lets too many parents who owe child support just walk away without paying. That's not right, and it's time to change it.

But we should do this the right way, not the wrong way. Real reform, first and foremost, must be about work. We should impose time limits and tough work requirements while making sure that parents get the child care they need to go to work. We should reward states for putting people to work, not for cutting people off. We will only succeed if we move people from welfare to work.

But real welfare reform is also about family. That means putting in place the toughest possible child support enforcement. It means requiring teen mothers to live at home, to stay in school, to turn their lives around. But it doesn't mean punishing children for the mistakes of their parents.

And finally, welfare reform must be about responsibility. States have a responsibility to maintain their own efforts to move people from welfare to work. That way we can have a race to independence, not a race to the bottom. And individuals have a responsibility to work in return for the help they receive. It's time to make welfare a second chance, not a way of life. It's time to make responsibility a way of life.

Let me be clear -- some differences still remain between the congressional proposals and me. But we must find common ground -- and soon. Look how far we've come already. Not long ago, some conservatives were talking about putting young people in orphanages. And not long ago, many liberals opposed requiring welfare recipients to work. But we've reached consensus on these issues. Now we need to go the final mile.

We've stood at the brink of welfare reform before. But for too long, American people have been frustrated by demands for ideological purity, by politicians who put their personal ambitions first. Millions of people who are trapped in the system and millions more taxpayers who pay the tab have suffered as a result. We can't let that happen again.

This is a time to deliver for the American people, not to pander to extremists who have held us back for too long. We can't let welfare reform die at the hands of ideological extremism or presidential politics or budget politics. If welfare reform gets caught up in the whirlpool of the budget debate, we run the risk that it might drown.

This is an historic moment. For 30 years, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, we've been saddled with a broken welfare system. Now we've got a real chance to reach common ground and higher ground. The senators owe it to the people who sent them to Washington not to let this opportunity slip away by doing the wrong thing or by failing to act at all. The American people have waited long enough.

Next week, let's end the old system that fosters dependence, and let's give the American people a new one based on independence, work, responsibility and family.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:12 A.M. EDT