THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (St. Louis, Missouri)
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Trans World Dome St. Louis, Missouri
6:35 P.M. CDT
MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to do -- for the benefit of most of the wire that are trying to kick out the radio address, I am now doing an embargoed briefing, embargoed until 10:06 a.m. tomorrow morning. Those of you who don't want to listen to me until 10:06 a.m. tomorrow morning can choose to do so. I just want to talk a little bit about the significance of the President's radio address tomorrow, because it is very important that the President in this address has signaled that he will look with favor on the Wisconsin welfare reform model that has now passed the legislature and has been signed by Governor Thompson.
The state of Wisconsin is in the process of submitting to the Department of Health and Human Services the necessary waiver request that would allow these experiments to go forward. But the White House considers the Wisconsin welfare reform experiment to be the most revolutionary that any state has put forward in the process by which the President has been working with the states to reform welfare as we know it. And the President has to date signed a total of 60 waivers in 38 states. There have been three prior waivers signed for the state of Wisconsin. So now Wisconsin has come forward as a result of the act that has passed the state legislature and they are requesting additional waivers.
Last week the Department of Health and Human Services received the first half of the waiver request and it's now under review. There will be a 30-day comment period. We have some legal and technical issues that we will have to work through with the state as they work on the second waiver request. And that would be aimed at finalizing the process by which we can put the state welfare experiments into place.
As the President says in the radio address, the revolutionary aspect of this proposal is there is a time certain, five years, by which -- at which time a welfare dependent would have to go into the work force either in private sector employment or in some type of public sector employment. There are some case-by-case waiver provisions; there are also hardship exceptions, so that if you, at the end of five years, found situations in which certain individual welfare recipients couldn't make it into the work force for any type of reason -- if they were not qualified for full-time work or if they had some other problem -- there are hardship exceptions that would allow the state to continue to provide benefits for dependent children in those types of circumstances.
So the President is confident they can take care of the bulk of the people who might face some extraordinary problem. But the thrust of the proposal certainly is consistent with the President's view that welfare reform ought to be about work, it ought to be about individual's accepting responsibility, and it ought to be about care for the family.
One of the intriguing things about the Wisconsin experiment is that they will likely -- the state will likely spend more money in the initial part of their welfare reform because of the requirement to take care of dependent kids as welfare recipients go out into the work force. They anticipate probably about a 13-percent increase in their state expenditures in the first years of the welfare reform experiment. But that's because they're going to be providing the necessary child and day care type services that will allow welfare dependents to go into the work force.
So, all in all, this is -- I'd describe just generically the Wisconsin model is probably close to some of the ideas that are contained in the Breaux-Chafee bipartisan budget compromise proposal. As you know, the President, after meeting with Breaux, Chafee and his group indicated that those aspects of welfare reform he looked upon favorably and could consider that part of the welfare reform proposal as part of a comprehensive budget package.
So I think, all in all, this is another example of moving inexorably towards reform of welfare as we know it, even if we haven't quite found the bipartisan will in the Congress to pass the type of legislation the President finds sufficient.
Q Yes, can I ask an unembargoed question?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's just stay within the embargoed -- within this subject, and then I can come back and answer any questions that are real time, as they say.
Q About the work requirement, is there a certain, like, minimum wage or anything attached to this or --
MR. MCCURRY: It's our understanding of what the --there have been concerns expressed about whether or not recipients would work off their welfare at below minimum wage. Our understanding of the initial waiver requests submitted by the state to HHS is that those jobs, or any suggestion that those jobs would be public service jobs would be within the Fair Labor Standards Act and within the minimum wage.
Those are the kinds of technical issues that we will continue to work with the state on and the President made clear today that we will work with the state of Wisconsin through the transition period to make sure that the state's vision of welfare also protects children and does right by working people and their families.
Q Is this the fastest you've every approved a waiver request?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have not -- technically not approved the waiver request. The waiver request is under consideration during the next month. What the President did today was signal very clearly that he intends to work with the state, looks favorably on the welfare reform model being put forward by Wisconsin and intends to make sure, through the Department of Health and Human Services that we structure the necessary waivers with the state.
But this has been -- the Wisconsin debate has been underway for some time. In fact, I know that Governor Thompson feels strongly about the subject that in fact there have been Democrats in the state legislature that were among the original advocates and proponents of exactly this bill. This has had a fairly long legislative history in the state of Wisconsin and the federal welfare reform officials have been watching that state debate very closely. So we followed this pretty closely and were well aware of what kind of things the state would do to implement the law that has now been passed by the legislature.
Q Do you know how many state waiver requests are pending?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how many are pending. In fact, I had not realized that we just approved -- we have got one pending from Maryland, as the President, I think, references. We actually, last Thursday -- that's it, last Thursday we did Minnesota. And I didn't realize it, but apparently it was not -- it's a fairly narrowly-defined waiver. That became -- Minnesota became the 38th state last week.
We expect, by the way, over the course of the summer, we believe that by July we will be up to 40 states. A significant figure in the President's address today is that 75 percent -- our estimate is 75 percent of the AFDC caseload in this country now one way or another is participating in one of these welfare reform experiments sanctioned by the waiver process. That's pretty extraordinary. So three quarters of the welfare population, roughly, is in some aspect of welfare reform as the states have been conducting these experiments.
So we are quite literally reforming welfare as we know it, even though we haven't yet achieved the federal legislation that would do it in a comprehensive way across the nation.
Q Mike, although he is going to Wisconsin --
MR. MCCURRY: As Allison Mitchell can tell you, a quiet revolution, as The New York Times calls it.
Q Although he's going to Wisconsin to meet Kohl, will this be an element in that trip at all next week? Will he talk to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this has been pending at HHS for a while. We did want to indicate approval because we know the President would likely face this subject when he went to Wisconsin this coming week.
Q Mike, is there any hesitation at all in singling out for praise a governor who is widely mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate?
MR. MCCURRY: The question was, was there any hesitation about singling out Governor Thompson. No, he has been an advocate of welfare reform. He is generally recognized around the country as someone who is very thoughtful and creative on the subject. I would point out again, so are a lot of the Democrats in the legislature that work through this legislation. In fact, welfare reform in Wisconsin began with Democrats in the legislature, we would argue.
But the President has no trouble crediting legislators on either side, both in the Congress and in the ranks of the governors and at the state level that are working to reform welfare. The only way we're going to reform welfare is to do it in a bipartisan fashion with both sides of the aisle working together. And the less we -- the more we keep politics out of it, the less likely we will be successful in getting the kind of reform the President desires.
Q But Dole -- one of his lines is you vetoed welfare twice. Is this all a way to undercut that argument?
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Dole says lots of things every day and we don't respond to it all. Our point, is, welfare is being reformed as we know it because of the work this administration has done to advance these experiments at the state level. And now we need to complete the work by reforming welfare as we know it, getting a bipartisan bill passed through the Congress. And we will certainly be looking forward to working with Senator Dole's successor to get that kind of work done.
Q If you've gotten all of these waivers why would you need the comprehensive legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: Still we haven't completed the job and we are, in fact, learning from these experiments things about federal welfare reform. But for uniformity of law and for benefits and for procedures, it would be more -- we believe it would be important to codify this in federal standards.
Also, the federal mix of income assistance works in tandem with other programs. I mean, we've talked in the past year about the length between AFDC and Medicaid, for example, and you can work -- the income assistance programs provided by the government will work more rationally if we bring together welfare reform in the guise of a comprehensive federal experiment. And lastly and obviously, welfare reform can be an important element of budget deficit reduction and the need for a comprehensive budget deficit plan -- balanced budget plan.
Q The Republican governors were in Washington early this week, and they would argue that this is a state-based revolution and that you all are along for the ride. The President sort of talks about the "changes we've encouraged."
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, there's a lot of truth to that because the President, coming from the ranks of the governors himself, quickly points out that experiments have begun at the state level, that the states are indeed the laboratories of reform when it comes to welfare reform, as laboratories of democracy.
At the same time, this administration has worked to help states structure these experiments so that children are protected, so that the work requirements are tough, and so that we hold together some semblance of continuity as we look across the country at the type of reform experiments that are occurring.
We've helped states structure these reform experiments so that they can get the job done and can lend some momentum to the effort for a federal welfare reform statute, and the President has done that consistent with his view that there needs to be flexibility at the state level so that states can put these proposals together.
So it's not either-or. I think it's the federal government has been creative, innovative, and reinvented as it works with states to reform welfare.
Q -- the amount you'll be raising today?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, we're back on the record -- that's the end of embargo. Back on the record now. We need to gather the pool, Kris is saying.
How much is he raising today? We are raising -- these three events that the President is doing tonight have raised $1.2 million, two-thirds of the proceeds going to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and one-third going to the reelection committee of Congressman Gephardt. There are no Clinton, Clinton-Gore aspects to the event this evening. In fact, if you'll notice, you've heard the President today talking a lot about Congressman Gephardt, encouraging his reelection and talking about the work that's being done by the Congress.
Any other questions for tonight before we say farewell? Okay. Good night.
END 6:45 P.M. CDT