THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT AT TOP OF CABINET MEETING
1:48 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Welcome to the members of the Cabinet and their representatives as well as to the members of the press. One month ago, I directed the members of the Cabinet to do everything they can to hire people off the welfare rolls into available jobs in government. And I asked the Vice President to lead and coordinate this effort. Today, we are here to receive each agency's specific plans to do that.
We have the good fortune to begin with some encouraging news. Today, I am pleased to report that over the last four years, from January of '93 to January of '97, America's welfare rolls declined by 2.8 million people. The welfare rolls have now declined by as much in the past four years as they increased in the previous 25 years. And that's a great tribute to all of those who worked on welfare reform as well as to the strength of the America economy.
In the next four years, we have to move another 2 million people off welfare to meet the targets of the welfare reform law. We have all got to take responsibility to see that the jobs are there so that people can leave welfare and become permanent members of the work force. Of course, the vast majority of these jobs will have to come from the private sector. And I will convene a meeting of business leaders here at the White House next month to talk about what more can be done to aid that endeavor. I also want to say that the members of the Cabinet that have special responsibility there will be doing more.
And I'm glad to announce today that, at the initiative of Aida Alvarez, Betsy Myers, the Director of Women's Outreach here at the White House, will leave the White House and move to the Small Business Administration to coordinate a new effort there to encourage small and women-owned businesses to hire people from welfare to work.
But the government must do its share as well. The federal government, after all, is a large employer in the United States. We employ a little over 1 percent of the total work force of our country. Today, I'm pleased to announce that we will hire at least 10,000 welfare recipients over the next four years, and we will urge private contractors that work with government to hire people off welfare as well.
I'm especially pleased that six of those who will be hired from the welfare rolls will work right here in the White House. Now, let me be clear: These will not be make-work jobs. These will be jobs that actually need to be fulfilled, work that needs to be done for the American people. We will demand the highest performance from the new employees and insist that they live up to their responsibilities. But we will also offer them a chance at a new beginning.
Today, we have with us two former welfare recipients who have found that new beginning. The Vice President and I just had the honor of meeting with them in the Oval Office. They are on my left. To my far left is Rebecca Wilson of Clinton, Iowa. That has a nice ring to it. (Laughter.) She is a single mother of two who was on welfare, working and attending and -- then while she was attending Clinton Community College. Last year, she got a part-time jobs as a clerk in her local Social Security office. That enabled her to leave the welfare rolls while she finished school.
With her supervisor's encouragement, she's now on her way to a business degree. She just got a raise and a promotion two days ago. Congratulations.
MS. WILSON: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: And she's been offered a permanent job with the Social Security Administration after she graduates.
Tonya Graham of Plainview, Texas had a child when she was 16, went on welfare while attending college part-time. She found out about a job at the Social Security Administration through one of her professors. She left welfare the very month she was hired, finished her degree, and is now working full-time as a Social Security claims representative.
These two women are examples that, not just for the government, but for the private and nonprofit sectors as well, if we give people who are on welfare the opportunity, they will do the rest, helping us to break the cycle of dependence and make responsibility a way of life.
The decisions we make in this room today will enable thousands of more American families to remake their lives as Rebecca and Tonya have done. Together, we have already reduced the welfare rolls by 2.8 million; that is the greatest reduction in our history. Now we have to finish the job, and the federal government has to do its part by offering jobs to at least 10,000 more welfare recipients over the next four years.
We can elevate our most fundamental values of family and work and responsibility, and make welfare reform work.
Now, I'd like to ask the Vice President, who has done so much to reinvent our government and who spearheaded this effort to get all the agencies together around this number, and ask him to say a few words.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. President. And before I do that, I do think it is appropriate, given the record here, to commend you for your leadership in this area. Over the last several years, a lot of people talked about welfare reform, but under your leadership this administration has made it happen. The numbers that you just announced are the result of your commitment to end welfare as we know it; or, as we may soon say, to end welfare as we knew it.
The very idea that the rolls have dropped as much in the last four years as they increased during the first 25 years of the welfare program is a remarkable record. And today, we're going to talk about the next steps for the federal government as an employer in welfare reform. We do have an historic opportunity and, of course, an obligation to put policy into practice, to make sure that reform leads to real jobs.
These two women that you just introduced, that we had a chance to visit with in the Oval Office just before this Cabinet meeting, are living proof that we can do it. Theirs are the stories of real welfare reform. And today, the Cabinet will present plans that will produce 10,000 more success stories just like theirs.
Mr. President, since signing the welfare reform legislation last summer, you have challenged employers throughout the country to play a role. You called on them to give some 2 million people the chance to move off the welfare rolls by the year 2000. And then a month ago, you challenged your Cabinet to develop plans for the federal government to do its share, and they have responded.
I did not know how this effort would go when you asked me to take this on, but I can tell you, it has far exceeded expectations as you will hear in the meeting. And the credit goes to the members of your Cabinet because they've all pitched in with highly specific, very well thought through plans. And it's going to work extremely well. Each of them has made a personal commitment, and through these plans, the federal government -- even as it continues downsizing -- will work with its current employees to find opportunities for those moving from welfare to work.
Everybody should understand that even as downsizing continues, there is a natural continuing hiring process in the government. And as the net number of federal government employees continues to go down, there is a natural process by which this hiring continues.
Let me give you a couple of examples. The Defense Department is looking to hire 1,600 former welfare recipients over the next four years; Social Security, another 600; Veterans Affairs, 800; the Commerce Department, as part of its expansion to conduct the year 2000 census is planning to employ 4,000 people who used to be on welfare; and right here within the Executive Office of the President, as you noted, Mr. President, we're projecting six hires in the coming year. In addition, we're going to reach out to all those who do business with the federal government and encourage them to join us.
We're taking on tough issues that have to be a part of the solution, such as affordable day care and transportation. In working through how the federal government was going to meet its obligation and successfully meet the challenge that you laid out, we right away identified day care and transportation as among those obstacles that have to be dealt with in order to do this correctly. And this is going to be a great learning process for all of us as well.
But the bottom line is this: Our government is committed to helping people like Rebecca Wilson and Tonya Graham find jobs, get prepared for those jobs, and then keep those jobs. We will hear more detail about the agency plans in a moment, but at the outset of this effort, Mr. President, I want to assure you that your Cabinet is ready to make your mandate their mission. And thousands of people who want to create better lives for themselves and their families by finding and keeping jobs should know that their federal government is prepared to work with them to make that goal a reality.
Q Mr. President, if people want to get these jobs, if they think they're eligible for them, how are they going to find out about it? How do they learn whether they can qualify?
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want to answer that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They will find out from the federal departments in their area. We also have a job bank on the Internet and you can, from a library or from a friend who has a personal computer, or if you have an Internet connection in some other way, you can plug into the job bank and they will be listed there, and you can go to the federal office building in your area.
THE PRESIDENT: But the main thing is, you see, the federal departments will all be trying to meet their targets, and the people who are placing the welfare workers who will be working for the state, people who interview the people on welfare, will be able to tell them, look, the federal government's got a program here and they're trying to hire people and we'll check around at all of these different agencies in your community and see if there's an opening there. That's how welfare workers -- welfare workers at the state level actually interview these people, but they will all know now what our national goals are and then they'll be able to determine quickly whether, by department, there's an opening in the area, and the welfare recipients will be coming in under the new welfare reform law to these workers, and they will be working together to try to help them get a job within the time prescribed.
Q Can we ask Ms. Wilson and Ms. Graham if they are making ends meet with their job? The Vice President mentioned child care being a problem. As a single mother of two, are you able to make enough money?
MS. WILSON: I have a lot of support from my family and friends and all the people around me. So it's been rough, but they're there for me if I need them.
MS GRAHAM: And I do not have any small children that are not in school.
Q What about all the people that do?
THE PRESIDENT: We put $4 billion more into child care, keep in mind. But one of the things that we have to work on here is we gave the money to the states. Keep in mind that the states are in a unique position now to provide even more for child care than we appropriated in the bill, because their block grant is tied to the moment -- the highest -- the peak of the welfare rolls. If I make a mistake, Secretary Shalala, correct me. The block grant is tied to the peak population of welfare rolls, which we reached sometime in early '94. So they're getting money now that's more money than they would otherwise get, because the welfare rolls have gone down so much.
Plus, there's a $4 billion add-on in the welfare reform bill to the states to help them provide affordable child care. What we have to do -- and that's one of the reasons that this process has been so important -- is we've had to work through with each department, since they don't get part of that block grant, whether there's some way they can be a part of it, or the recipient, at least, if it's out in the states as opposed to D.C., could get some benefit from it. And we'll have to work through all that.
But I think that there won't be any problem with that, and at least -- I think one of the things that will happen as a result of welfare reform, by the way, that will be one of the ancillary benefits is that there will be a lot more child care slots opened up in the country, and that will make available more affordable child care to people who aren't on welfare and haven't ever been on welfare. That's one of the goals that I have and I believe will occur.
Q Mr. President, the two women who are with you are living proof that it can be done, in a sense, without a special program or a special idea. I imagine the critics would say, we don't necessarily need all of this special push.
THE PRESIDENT: But you do if you want everybody to be like them. That is, let me -- remember what I said all along, from the day I got here and we started these welfare reform experiments over four years ago, I said all along, look, the system we have works fine for about 40 to 45 percent of the people because they are like these women. And nearly everybody on welfare wants to get off, wants to be self-supporting, wants to be an independent member of society, would rather pay taxes than draw from the public treasury.
But the system we have -- the way it works, especially for people with very young children made it actually -- it was a disincentive for a lot of people to get off welfare. So all we tried to do is to create a set of circumstances now where 100 percent of the able-bodied people on welfare will be able to do what these two women have done on their own under the old system.
If we didn't do anything, about four in ten people on welfare would continue to be on a while, get the help them need, get right off, and go on with their lives. What we're trying to do is to get to the other 60 percent. That's what welfare reform is all about.
And the reason we had -- let me remind you -- the reason we had the biggest drop ever in the last four years according to a study done by Janet Yellin and the Council of Economic Advisors. They say about a third of the drop in the welfare rolls was due directly to specific welfare reform efforts. And a quarter of the drop was due to other efforts like the 50 percent increase in child support collections. And a little over 40 percent was due to the improvement in the economy. And that corresponds with a little over 40 percent who always do -- who did well under the old welfare system.
So we're working on the other 60 percent. But the other 60 percent had become a significant problem for America because you were having generational dependence on welfare.
Q Mr. President, I have to ask you a question about another topic because this is the only time I will see you today but --
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead.
Q -- just a little while ago, Mrs. Clinton was asked about questions that keep coming up about efforts -- whether the White House knew of or was behind or whether there were any efforts to pay hush money to Webster Hubbell. And she called it part of the continuing saga of Whitewater, the never-ending fictional conspiracy that honest-to-goodness reminds me of some people's obsession with UFOs and the Hale-Bopp comet. (Laughter.) And I was wondering --
THE PRESIDENT: Did she say that? (Laughter.) That's pretty good. (Laughter.)
Q I was wondering if you share that sentiment? And also, we haven't had a chance to -- (laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, if I didn't, I wouldn't disagree with her in public. (Laughter.)
Q We haven't had a chance to hear what your comment is to the apology that Webb Hubbell and his claim that he was a con artist who fooled people here at the White House. Are you angry at him now? He seems to have caused you a whole lot of trouble, and he seems to be causing it.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, I'm not angry at him anymore because he's paid a very high price for the mistake he made. And if he hadn't come up here and he'd stayed home and tried to work it through, he would have paid a price, but it would have been a smaller one.
But let me remind you that everybody pays in life. There's -- somehow we all wind up paying for whatever we do, and he paid a very high price. And he's apologized and I accept his apology. He's got four wonderful children and a fine wife. And he's done a lot of wonderful things in his life, and I hope he'll be able to go on and do some more wonderful things.
And as far as I'm concerned, that's why we have a criminal justice system: people get punished, they pay their price, and they're supposed to be able to go on. He got punished and paid quite a high price, and I hope he'll be able to go on with his life now.
Q How are you getting along on those crutches?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm doing great. These are my stealth crutches. (Laughter.) I think they were developed as an offshoot of B-2 technology, see, and I like them quite a lot. (Laughter.) Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:07 P.M. EDT