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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 5, 1997
                             TO THE NATION

The Oval Office

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. We come together this weekend to celebrate Independence Day, our 221 years of freedom and the fundamental values that unite us as one America: All of us should have an equal chance to succeed, and all of us have the same obligation to work hard, to be law-abiding citizens, to give something back to our community to earn in our generation the freedom our Founders established.

These are the values that have guided our efforts to end welfare as we know it. Today, I want to talk to you about the progress we have made over the last four and a half years, the changes now underway, and what we must do -- all of us -- to make sure that welfare reform honors those values, too.

For four and a half years, my administration has been committed to putting an end to the old welfare system that trapped too many families in a cycle of despair. Working with the states, we first launched welfare reform experiments in 43 states that emphasize work and personal responsibility.

Then, last summer, I signed historic legislation that revolutionized welfare into a system that supports families and children, but demands work from those who are able to perform it. It was a dramatic step, but we knew the time was right to put an end to a system that was broken beyond repair. As of July 1st, just a few days ago, welfare reform has taken effect in all 50 states. This week, the old welfare system came to an end. Now a new system based on work is taking its place. This system demands responsibility, but not only from the people who are now required to work, but also from every American.

We knew last August that the new welfare reform law was not a guarantee, but a bold experiment. So far, it's working. I am pleased to announce that today there are 3 million fewer people on welfare than there were the day I took office -- a remarkable 1.2 million fewer since I signed welfare reform into law. This is the largest decrease in the welfare rolls in history, giving us the lowest percentage of our population on welfare since 1970.

We have begun to put an end to the culture of dependency, and to elevate our values of family, work and responsibility. But we have only begun. Now we must continue to work together to meet our goal of moving a million more people from welfare to work by the year 2000.

Since I took office, the economy has added 12.5 million new jobs -- and many economists believe we will continue to produce the jobs we need to meet our challenge. But even so, it won't be easy, because many of the people who remain on welfare have never worked before; still others live in poor communities without enough jobs. So if we expect people to work, we need to make sure there's work for them to go to. And we need to make sure that those with no previous work experience, without present connections to mainstream America, get both the preparation and the support they need to succeed.

The national government will do its part. First, the balanced budget agreement we reached with Congress in May provides $3 billion to create jobs to move people from welfare to work. I secured a commitment from congressional leaders to give private employers tax incentives to hire long-term welfare recipients as well. And I believe that every one of those new workers should earn at least the minimum wage and receive the protections of existing employment laws that other workers enjoy.

Second, we must help welfare recipients get to the new jobs, which often are outside their neighborhoods. That's why I recently proposed legislation providing $600 million to help states and local communities devise transportation strategies to move people from welfare to work.

Third, we must make sure that mothers who must now go to work have good child care and adequate health care for their children. That's why I made sure that the welfare reform bill added $4 billion more in child care assistance, and why I fought for the Balanced Budget Agreement to extend health care coverage to millions more uninsured children.

States must also do their part. Many states are already working to reduce caseloads and free resources to put even more people to work. For example, Wisconsin and Florida are significantly increasing their investments in child care. In Oregon, they're providing health care and transportation support, and subsidizing jobs with money that used to pay for welfare checks.

Today, I challenge every state to take the money they save from lowering their caseloads and use it -- for child care, for transportation, to subsidize the training and wage help that people need to move from welfare to work.

As much as the national and state governments can do to move people from welfare to work, we know the vast majority of the jobs must be created by private business. The most lasting way to bring people on welfare into the mainstream of American life is with a solid job in the private sector.

So, to every businessperson who has ever criticized the old system, I say: That system is gone. It's now up to you to help make the new system work. Already, businesses of all sizes have joined in a national Welfare-To-Work Partnership, committed to hiring welfare recipients and to recruiting other employers to join them. I've committed the federal government to hire 10,000 welfare recipients over the next four years. If you have a business and can hire just one, it will be a great citizen service.

This Independence Day, all Americans should be very happy that 3 million of our fellow citizens are now off welfare rolls. If we can provide another million jobs, then we'll have about 3 million more workers and their children who can celebrate their own independence day by the turn of the century.

So as we celebrate our nation's past and the values that unite us, let us look forward to the future, and let us redouble our determination to give more and more of our fellow citizens their own personal independence day. Thanks for listening.