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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 7, 1996
                            TO THE NATION     

The Roosevelt Room

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week I had the honor of lighting both the national Christmas tree and the national menorah. Both are symbols of a time of year filled with joy, hope and expectation. A time, too, when we reflect on what we've done and what is left to do. A time to honor our obligations to family and community.

Last summer we made a new beginning on one of our nation's most vexing problems: the welfare system. When I signed the historic welfare reform law we set out to honor a moral obligation for our nation, to help many people in our national community to help themselves. This law dramatically changes the nation's welfare system so that no longer will it fail our people, trap so many families in a cycle of dependency, but instead will now help people to move from welfare to work. It will do so by requiring work of every able-bodied person, by protecting children, by promoting parental responsibility through tougher child support enforcement.

We've worked a long time to reform welfare. Change was demanded by all the American people, especially those on welfare who bore the brunt of the system's failure. For decades now, welfare has too often been a trap, consigning generation after generation to a cycle of dependency. The children of welfare are more likely to drop out of school, to run afoul of the law, to become teen parents, to raise their own children on welfare. That's a sad legacy we have the power to prevent. And now, we can.

I came to office determined to end welfare as we know it, to replace welfare checks with paychecks. Even before I signed the welfare reform bill we were working with states to test reform strategies, giving 43 states waivers from federal rules to experiment with reforms that required work, imposed time limits, and demanded personal responsibility. And we were toughening child support enforcement, increasing collections by 50 percent over the last four years. That's about $4 billion.

We were determined to move millions from welfare to work, and our strategy has worked. I am pleased to announce today that there are now 2.1 million fewer people on welfare than on the day I took the oath of office. That is the biggest drop in the welfare rolls in history.

Some of these reductions have been even more striking. The welfare rolls have dropped 41 percent in Wisconsin, 38 percent in Indiana -- two states where we granted landmark waivers to launch welfare reform experiments.

Throughout the country we're working to make responsibility a way of life, not an option. That means millions of people are on their way to building lives with the structure, purpose, meaning and dignity that work gives. And that is something to celebrate.

But this is just the beginning of welfare reform. We had a choice: we could have gone on as we had with a system that was failing, or start anew; to create a system that could give everyone who's able-bodied a chance to work and a chance to be independent. We chose the right way, first, working over the last four years with the states to reform their own systems; then passing a new welfare reform law requiring even more change in every state and every community.

But there is still much to do and it now falls to all of us to make sure this reform works. The next step is for the states to implement the new law by tailoring a reform plan that works for their communities. As required by the law, we have already certified new welfare reform plans for 14 states. Today I'm pleased to announce we're certifying welfare for four more states -- California, Nebraska, South Dakota and Alabama. All their plans will require and reward work, impose time limits, increase child care payments, and demand personal responsibility. And across the board, as we give welfare funds back to the states, we will protect the guarantees of health care, nutrition and child care -- all of which are critical to helping families move from welfare to work. And we'll continue to crack down on child support enforcement.

Welfare as we knew it was a bad deal for everyone. We're determined to create a better deal. We want to say to every American, work pays. We raised the minimum wage; we expanded the earned income tax credit to allow the working poor to keep more of what they earn. Now we have to create a million jobs for people on welfare by giving businesses incentives to hire people off welfare and enlisting the private sector in a national effort to bring all Americans into the economic mainstream. We have to have help from the private sector.

Together we can make the permanent underclass a thing of the past. But we have a moral obligation to do that through welfare reform, working together in our communities, our businesses, our churches and our schools. Every organization which employs people should consider hiring someone off welfare, and every state ought to give those organizations the incentives to do so, so that we can help families reclaim the right to know they can take care of themselves and their own obligations.

Our future does not have to be one with so many people living trapped lives. The door has now been opened to a new era of freedom and independence. And now it's up to us -- all of us -- to help all the people who need it through that door, one family at a time.

Thanks for listening.