THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES DONNA SHALALA AND ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR POLICY PLANNING BRUCE REED
The Briefing Room
3:12 P.M. EDT
MS. GLYNN: Good afternoon, everyone. To finish the briefing on welfare reform we have Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and Assistant to the President for Policy Planning Bruce Reed.
SECRETARY SHALALA: Thank you very much. I think the President outlined his reasons for signing the bill brilliantly. Let me talk a little about the reasons why the President vetoed earlier bills and what we've gained, what the policy gains have been in this bill.
First, Medicaid is a stand-alone entitlement program. No longer is it linked -- it's not linked to welfare, and the Medicaid program is allowed to continue. We would still like some reforms in that Medicaid program, but the important thing is that welfare recipients will not be losing their Medicaid, and Medicaid will continue for millions of poor Americans who need health care.
Second, there's $4 billion more for child care in this bill, and we were able to restore the health and safety standards for the child care system in this country, which were absolutely critical. There was an attempt by the Republicans to remove them.
Third, there is no food stamp block grant. The food stamp program stays intact. There's no ceiling limit on it. The President did outline that we have some concerns about the way the cuts were taken, and we'll be looking at those as we do our detailed analysis.
Fourth, there's no child welfare block grant. The child welfare services, which have been the most sensitive kind of services in this country, to limit them in any way -- these are the services that cover foster care, adoption services, 21 states are already under some court order. The Republicans originally wanted to curb those services, put caps on it, block grant it. We said not a chance. These are the most vulnerable children in our society and you have to back away from those proposals.
There are greater protections in this bill for disabled children. There is a doubling of the contingency fund to protect against economic downturns. It's now $2 billion, instead of $1 billion, which is what they had in previous bills. That's extremely important.
For those that believe that we ought to continue to entitlement, the contingency fund becomes critical. That's what is taken up and used if there is an economic downturn in a state. If a state goes into an economic downturn, the people that need help are working folks who get laid off from their jobs and need to come into the welfare system for a very short period of time. So a contingency fund or an alternative like an entitlement becomes increasingly important. The contingency fund here is $2 billion to protect against economic downturns.
There is a 20 percent hardship exemption, which gives the states the flexibility of exempting a large group of people who cannot meet either the work requirements or the time requirements for one reason or another. There is no mandatory family cap. You'll remember that the Catholic Church in particular has been deeply concerned about a family cap that would limit the payments that a state gives, a national family cap if a family has another child -- if a woman has another child. The work requirements in this have actually been made more flexible at the 11th hour. A very interesting change was put in place in this bill, which has not actually been written about, which allows the states to keep the work requirements they negotiated with us in their waivers, as opposed to moving to the work requirements that are in the bill. So the states will have the options during the course of their waivers, and these waivers have been granted between five and 11 years. So for many states they'll have flexibility on the packages they put together.
The school lunch and the nutrition block grant was eliminated in this bill. We fought that early on. And any kind of cut in unmarried teen moms from getting assistance was eliminated. There are major gains in this bill that made it possible for the President to sign the bill, but more importantly from our point of view, made it possible for the bill to work.
Q Secretary Shalala, you have outlined a number of improvements of this bill over the previous two that he vetoed, but in your opinion is this a good bill, is this an improvement on the status quo? Secondly, did you recommend to the President this morning or last night that he in fact sign it? And third, did you ever consider resigning over this bill?
SECRETARY SHALALA: First, on the issue of is this an improvement over the status quo, it is a significant improvement over the status quo. As early as 1984 a number of my colleagues who are now with me at the Department of Health and Human Services, including Mary Jo Bane and I, recommended to Governor Cuomo that we move to an employment-based program with time limits. This program moves us into the modern age, moves -- gives people genuine opportunity to move from welfare to work and puts the support systems around. If you combine this with Earned Income Tax Credit and with the minimum wage, we have powerful incentives to support people, even as they're entering entry-level jobs in this country. And the President has always believed, as all of us do, that the best opportunity for anyone in this country is a job.
This is a significant improvement over the status quo. As to the other two questions, I never reveal publicly advice I give to the President. And I never considered resigning.
Q Ms. Secretary, on the 10 things that you named for us, I wanted to just ask a couple of clarifying questions. The doubling of the contingency fund from $1 billion to $2 billion, is that over what period of time?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Over six years.
Q And the same is true of the $4 billion more for child care?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes.
Q What does that bring the total to of child care for the six years?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Fourteen billion dollars.
Q And the 10th thing -- one other question, guys. Will that 10th thing that you named -- you listed -- the unmarried teen moms --
SECRETARY SHALALA: Remember, one of the original bills --
Q What's the provision now?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Unmarried teen moms will be able to finish high school. They'll get support while they're finishing high school as opposed to being cut off from any kind of aid.
Q Is that required or is it up to the states --
MR. REED: When the House Republicans put forward their bill early last year, they included a provision that would have required every state to ban every teen mother from receiving assistance just because they were poor, young and unmarried as the President said.
Q It wasn't in the bill that went to the President the first time was it?
MR. REED: No, no. That's something that was in the original House bill and the President singled that out in his 1995 State of the Union. We had a hard-fought battle which we won early on, and it's not included in the final bill.
SECRETARY SHALALA: Remember for many of us, it's the improvement since our first discussions with the Republicans. Dragging them originally into getting child support into the bill became very important. They did not have it in their original bill; we insisted on it. Child support enforcement for the first time will have the national dimension to it, which means we'll be able to track people down successfully across state lines.
Q Secretary Shalala, you never said whether you liked the bill in response to the last question. And, also, you have liberal Democrats like Charlie Rangel going to the floor saying my President will boldly throw 1 million children into the street. How do you react to those sorts of comments?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, first, I hope that the governors intend to prove Charlie, my good friend Charlie Brown -- Charlie Rangel -- Charlie Rangel wrong. And it's the way they're going to manage this program.
Second, I do think it's a good welfare bill. There are parts of it that the President outlined that are outside the welfare bill that we have deep and serious concerns about that include the immigration provisions and the nutrition provisions and, hopefully, we'll be able to make significant strides in getting improvements over our concerns.
Q Will you outline what it is exactly about the nutrition provisions that are objected to?
SECRETARY SHALALA: The President outlined the shelter allowance as one example. For people that -- for low income people working people in some cases, who have very high shelter costs having their calculation for food stamps based on taking into account a certain amount of their shelter costs, the issue is -- it's over 50 percent of their shelter cost, how much above that will be taken into account.
This bill makes some dollar improvements but the law was actually going to take off the limit over 50 percent, a law that was passed which would have protected those who live in high housing cost areas. That becomes extremely important for working families because they do have some income, because they have jobs, but they also need food stamps to supplement and we need to take into account those higher shelter costs.
That becomes a very sensitive issue for us.
Q -- bill does what as --
SECRETARY SHALALA: The bill puts a cap on that amount, and we simply want to be able to take a very careful look at that. In addition, the bill goes into the food stamp program and removes some increases that we have some concerns about, and we will be reviewing those. But remember, we got this bill at midnight last night. The President needed to make a decision fast, so we've done the analysis --
MR. REED: Just to add to what Donna said, there is a cap in current law that was set to expire, effectively next year, and this bill maintains that cap and shaves the increase --
SECRETARY SHALALA: It was the Mickey Leland Food Act, and it was Mickey Leland's legacy to take off that cap.
Q Madam Secretary, when you came this morning to this meeting, did you have a sense, or did you know in your bones what the outcome would be --
SECRETARY SHALALA: No.
Q -- and was it what you expected?
SECRETARY SHALALA: No, I didn't. I expected it to be a full and healthy discussion and thoughtful discussion with the President. And as he described it, that's exactly what it was.
Q And did you believe when you came that either outcome was possible and we just happened to arrive at this outcome?
SECRETARY SHALALA: I don't -- I don't know. I came for a discussion. The President has never invited me to a meeting in which he has already made up his mind, so it was a full discussion this morning.
Q Could you give some of the flavor of that meeting?
SECRETARY SHALALA: No, I think it's inappropriate. We have never described the meetings or the flavor of the meetings. I think the President described the meeting, and I'll stick with the President's description.
Q The President said there is an element of experiment about this. Nobody can say with absolute certainly how it will work or how different states will approach it. What do you think is a fair window of time to be reviewing what the states are doing? And if there is a race for the bottom, when will we know?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, as you well know, we have essentially taken the first step towards for welfare reform using the waiver process, so we know something about state behavior and we're just starting to get in the evaluations on state behavior and what's happening in those particular states. The President would want us to monitor what's happening very carefully. We will be able to tell whether states are adding additional money. We will know how many states are moving people into jobs and whether they're staying in those jobs. So we will have information, hopefully state by state, that will tell us what's happening and be able to report to the President and report to Congress about what's going to happen.
The important thing about this bill, and every piece of research has told us, that the states must have a stake in the outcome. They must be a full partner. The more they're involved in it, the more likely you are to get success in terms of state programs. That's what the MDRC told us in their research, and so we have moved dramatically to give the states the authority to design their own programs.
Q Will the bill change anything that's happening in the many states with waivers? Are they exempt -- in addition to being exempt from the work requirements in the bill, are they exempt from any other provisions?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, the states will be able to --we have to go back and look at this very carefully. I think that they will be able to take their waivers, look at the new bill, and be able to shape what their overall program -- and remember, some of our waivers are for one county. They will have a lot more flexibility in terms of statewide programs now, in terms of expanding some of those county activities. And so I do expect some changes in the states.
Q Will they be forced to change anything, though, or --
SECRETARY SHALALA: The bill basically allows them to keep their waivers and to work with the rest of the bill. So to the extent that they're forced to it, is -- I think the answer is, there is no forcing, but there are more opportunities in the new bill that they will want to take advantage of. And I think that's the best way to characterize it.
Q -- follow up to that. What's the fate of the Wisconsin waiver?
SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, Wisconsin now has -- I can't talk about Wisconsin. You're going to have to answer Wisconsin. I'm recused. Go ahead. I'm going to Wisconsin --
MR. REED: When this bill becomes law, Wisconsin should be able to do the welfare reform plan that they submitted to us.
Q In other words, the President will take no action on the pending waiver request? What's the --
Q Is it moot --
MR. REED: Yes, I think it's essentially moot.
Q Bruce, when will -- the President said he'd be sending legislation up to fix some of the holes, the problems he saw with the bill, notably the immigrants who will not get Medicaid and other proposals. When will that legislation be ready? When are you planning to send --
SECRETARY SHALALA: He is -- you know, we just analyzed this bill for the President. We just got it, and he told us to get to work. So, we'll let you --
MR. REED: I think that the prospects of enacting that legislation in this Congress are not very good given the circumstances we've run into in the last several weeks.
Q Just to follow up, the prospects of enactment have in the past not necessarily stopped you from the process of promulgation. And the President made it sound as if he thought that was a serious enough concern. Will a proposal from the administration be forthcoming in the remainder of this year or would that wait for the second term?
MR. REED: Well, I think it's likely, but I --
Q Which is likely --
SECRETARY SHALALA: I think it's -- what the President told us to do -- let me go back to the point. What the President told us to do was to get to work and to look at those -- we have to finish our analysis of this bill. We've seen, obviously we've read it and seen enough of it. We need to come back to him and tell him specifically what in the immigration parts of the bill, what in the food stamps parts of the bill that we need to change. And so we're going to work immediately.
You're detail questions about when we're going to have the legislation, we'll just have to answer later.
Q Can I just follow up one second. I think the question is prompted by the President's confidence in expressing that that as a stand-alone provision wouldn't have passed and his apparent resolve in saying that it's so unjust and really unjustifiable as to require a relatively immediate response by you and that it would in fact prevail.
MR. REED: I think as the President said, that he believes that over time as more is learned about the potential impact of these provisions that a consensus will emerge to fix them. But, you know, we have a month left in this Congress. It doesn't seem likely that it would happen.
Q Secretary Shalala, when the Republicans went after politically popular middle class programs from Medicare and on down -- some of them that they tried to block grant to the states -- the President fought like a tiger and said he was willing to put his political future on the line for them. Now here, he has a bill where he himself points to serious flaws affecting children and affecting legal immigrants. Is it just a coincidence that those who are adversely affected by this bill, by your own and by the President's own admission, don't have the vote?
SECRETARY SHALALA: In fact, I come to the opposite conclusion. We fought like tigers to make sure Medicaid wasn't block grant, which hurts -- seriously hurts poor people in this country. We fought like tigers to make sure food stamps wasn't block granted. We fought like tigers to make sure the child welfare services were not block granted or nutrition services. We were successful in holding off some of the most vicious proposals and in shaping a bill that sets out the goals and meets the President's goals that he laid out both in the campaign in the beginning and throughout this administration. And that combined with the earned income tax credit and the minimum wage are significant steps forward for low income Americans and genuine opportunities for them, which after all, is what welfare reform is all about.
Do you want to --
MR. REED: Can I just make one more point about how far we've come in this debate? The original House bill had $75 billion in budget savings related to welfare reform and $34 billion in EITC cuts -- a total of $109 billion in their welfare package. This bill that the President has indicated his support for has $57 billion. So we think that we've come a long way.
Q But from your own starting point --
MR. REED: Our own starting point was, I think --
SECRETARY SHALALA: Deficit-neutral, basically.
MR. REED: The President's 1996 welfare reform plan saved $42 billion combined.
Q No, I mean your own starting point when --
MR. REED: In 1994?
MR. REED: Which was deficit --
SECRETARY SHALALA: Which was deficit-neutral, basically. Let me also point out that the President has laid out a series of gains for the low income people in this country. From food stamps to Ryan White, to protections in the Medicare program, we have a superb record in this administration. For a generation of vulnerable Americans, this is the most important step we can take --to move from the status quo, to move people from dependency on the welfare system to a job. And I support the President in his decision.
Q Secretary Shalala, can you talk about the sufficiency of the $2 billion contingency fund? If we had a serious national downturn --
SECRETARY SHALALA: If we have a serious national downturn, we need to go back to Congress and make changes. Everybody knows that. The Republicans know that. We know that. The Fed just put out a report in Cleveland pointing out the importance of the economic stabilizing effect of federal money. If you don't, recessions go deeper and broader in states. And the business community could hardly be taxed to pull them out. And everybody will be clamoring back for more resources in the contingency fund. And that, I think, everybody has conceded.
MR. REED: But also, saving the food stamp program has an even greater stabilization effect. Food Stamps is much more responsive to economic downturns than the current AFDC program.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:34 P.M. EDT