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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 25, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                     SECRETARY OF HHS DONNA SHALALA,
                           The Briefing Room            

11:51 A.M. EST

Q Is the President going to be impeached?

SECRETARY SHALALA: Not until after we finish welfare reform. (Laughter.) As the President said, our budget will include additional resources to support our ongoing efforts to help young parents move from welfare to work, and specifically, today we're talking about $430 million in housing vouchers to help families secure more stable housing, and $150 million in transportation assistance to help workers get to their jobs.

And one of the things the President pointed out in his speech was the workers are located in different places from the jobs and, therefore, transportation and child care become very critical pieces to our overall efforts to get people to work.

The budget also extends the welfare-to-work opportunity tax credit to encourage more businesses to hire welfare recipients, and it reauthorizes the welfare-to-work bill that the Labor Department administers. And Secretary Herman will talk about those.

These programs build on our success to date. As you know, the President announced today that welfare caseloads are at the lowest levels in 30 years, and the percentage of welfare recipients who are working has tripled since this administration began early in 1993. Approximately 1.5 million people who were on welfare in 1997 were working in 1998, and all states for which we have data are meeting their work participation rates, which means that it's not just scattered across the country as to which states are moving welfare recipients to work. it's happening in every state and each state is meeting the targets that were set in the law.

Let me also say the Vice President is announcing today that we're also going to try to cover more people with Medicaid, specifically legal immigrants. The new proposals which will go to Congress gives a Medicaid option for pregnant women and children who are legally in this country. And the states will be allowed to cover them with Medicaid, assuming that the bill passed. It's something that we've been wanting to do for a long time.

In addition to that, legal immigrants who have been here for five years and become disabled will be eligible for SSI, which will include Medicaid. So this is an expansion of benefits for legal immigrants, for groups that were left out of the original welfare bill. These expansions that we're recommending are consistent with our earlier recommendations, and that is we have long believed that legal immigrants ought to have, particularly pregnant women and children and the disabled, ought to have access to health care.

We've come a long way. All of these are our efforts to make work pay, to keep people in the work force, to help them get in the work force in the first place, to recognize that people need child care and transportation and health care to get off welfare and into work.

SECRETARY HERMAN: Thank you very, very much, Secretary Shalala. It's still afternoon -- good afternoon.

Q Good afternoon.

SECRETARY HERMAN: Let me say, first of all, Secretary Shalala has already said, and many of you know, the President is requesting an additional $1 billion for one year to continue our work on the efforts to increase individuals who are leaving the welfare rolls to gain employment.

We believe that this new request will help to further the work on those who are hardest to serve, who still remain on the welfare rolls. And we recognize that really the hardest challenge does remain, because the hardest to serve still remain on the welfare rolls.

To this end, we hope to use these funds to more directly target these individuals and to work closely with governors, with mayors, with other elected officials around the country to continue to make a difference. We have simplified our eligibility in this round. We know that these individuals for the most part are those who have poor to no work histories. They have very little education; perhaps they have not completed high school. Oftentimes they may have problems with substance abuse, or they may be individuals with a disability.

In the previous round you had to have multiple factors to qualify for our program eligibility. This time around you need only have one of those criteria in order to participate in the training programs.

Q How many are there in that category?

SECRETARY HERMAN: We believe that there are approximately 40 percent overall in terms of those who are on the welfare rolls in that population.

Q How many people?

SECRETARY HERMAN: I don't have the exact finite numbers. It's about 8 million still left, representing about 40 million of that population.

We've also put a very special focus in this round on non-custodial parents, or really for the most part, single fathers, because we want to make sure the non-custodial parents, primarily who are fathers in this instance, not only assume responsibility, but that they will also have the opportunity to participate in the parenting of these children.

I can tell you firsthand as someone who has traveled the country to meet with many of these young men, they really do want to be involved in the lives of their children, but they do need the assistance to know oftentimes just how to get started or what parenting is all about. And I'm very hopeful that this additional focus with these new resources will certainly enable us to bring more fathers into this equation.

Q So fathers are encouraged to stay in the home now?

SECRETARY HERMAN: Fathers will be encouraged to participate in the rearing of their children. Unlike the old laws where they were penalized for their presence, we want to make sure that parents are involved -- both parents are involved with these children together. Not necessarily in the home. We're saying that non-custodial parents are actually eligible for the training support.

And then the third aspect of this initiative where we're adding new features is to bring increased support also to Native Americans. We're doubling our support in terms of what we have done to date in putting an emphasis in particular on Native Americans and working more closely, particularly with reservation communities.

And I am hopeful that with the reform of the job training program, that all of these efforts working together, as we are also reforming our overall job training systems, will basically boost the support that we're giving generally to individuals who are making the transition.

I know that we'll have time for questions afterwards and I want to give Bruce just a few minutes to come in, because if there has been one individual who has been the chief architect from the beginning for the President on this policy, it's been Bruce Reed. He's done a very good job.


MR. REED: Well, thank you, Alexis. And thank you, Donna.

I want to just stress two points. First is, the importance of what we're learning about work. The record drop in the caseload gets all the attention. We've cut the caseload by nearly half since the President took office. But the more important news is that we've seen an explosion of work by single mothers, a real transformation of the welfare system into a system that's based on work.

Two statistics to back that up: The first is that the number of people on welfare who are working has tripled since '92 -- it's gone from 7 percent in '92 to 22 percent in this past year, and over the long haul the more that we can make the world of welfare look like the world of work, the easier it's going to be for people to make the transition.

The second figure is that we've seen a record number of people who were on welfare the previous year who are now working. The current figure is 1.5 million in '98 who told the Census that -- who had been on welfare the previous year and are now working. And that is nearly double the number from '92, when we took office.

So we have a lot of work to do, as Alexis and Donna both said. The job is going to get harder; the caseload declines have been remarkable, but the people left on the rolls are going to need more help. And that's why we're doubling the amount of money for transportation assistance, to help people move from welfare to work. We have a 50-percent increase in housing vouchers, so people can move closer to jobs. And we're also extending this program that is targeted to the people in the poorest communities who need help moving from welfare to work.

The other point that I'd like to make is that the President is also keeping the other promise he made when he signed the welfare law in '96, which is to restore benefits to legal immigrants that never should have been cut in the first place. And the Vice President is in California today announcing that our budget will include $1.3 billion over five years and further restorations of benefits to legal immigrants.

We made an enormous amount of progress in '97 and '98 on a bipartisan basis and, as Donna said, we're going to give states the option the cover legal immigrant children who came in here after the law was signed; also to cover pregnant women and to finally restore Medicaid and SSI coverage for people who come to this country and become disabled after entry.

Q What is it about Rhode Island that puts it at the bottom of the list from the standpoint of improvement in welfare?

MR. REED: Well, I think there are different explanations for different states. Some states were slow to pass enacting legislation -- California, for example, has a big welfare system, a lot of work to do, and they didn't reach agreement on the laws to carry out until last year. Other states, if you look down that list, have had some population growth that throws the figures off a little bit. I don't have a detailed --

Q You don't know specifically about Rhode Island?

MR. REED: I'd be happy to look at it for you.

Q But the percentage is not based on the numbers, is it, it's based on the percentage of whatever that number is that came off the rolls. And it's only 11 percent for Rhode Island.

MR. REED: Some states -- and I suspect this may be what is going on in Rhode Island -- some states had a running start. Governor Carnahan was here from Missouri; he'd been doing it for several years before the law was signed. And I think Rhode Island got off to something of a slow start.

SECRETARY SHALALA: Remember that we put a large part of the welfare reform in place before the bill was passed by using waivers. And one of the things the President referred to in his statement was that 43 states already had waivers, which basically allowed them to put their own welfare-to-work system in place before the bill was passed. So some of them --

MR. REED: Rhode Island did not have a waiver.

SECRETARY HERMAN: And they just got their welfare-to-work funds on top of that.

SECRETARY SHALALA: But it's a very small number of people.

Q If one person is misused, it's important. I understand it's a small number.


Q Last summer the Senate introduced a bill to extend the work opportunity tax credit for three years, arguing that you really need a multiyear tax credit to be effective. Why is the administration only proposing a one-year extension?

MR. REED: I believe that that's the policy we've taken across the board on all our tax credits in this budget. So they all expire at the same point.

Q Doesn't that lend an uncertain business climate as far as trying to -- tax purposes and to plan ahead? Doesn't that act as a disincentive when it's so --

SECRETARY SHALALA: It hasn't slowed down the number of businesses that have participated in welfare to work. In fact, that has increased during this --

SECRETARY HERMAN: It's really made -- it's made a difference. And, Sam, I don't want you to misinterpret what we were saying in terms of the number. y reference to the number in terms of a small number. Oftentimes when you have small communities who have not had the experience of focusing in on hard to serve populations this way, the challenge oftentimes is greater for them in terms of understanding what's required. And so I think it's a combination of factors, when you look at the state of Rhode Island.

Q Secretary Herman and Mr. Reed, could you elaborate on the Supreme Court's decision today not to adjust the census for the expected under-count of minorities?

MR. REED: We just heard about.

SECRETARY HERMAN: We literally just heard about it, coming out to the briefing. So I don't have any more details than what you've literally just heard.

Q But what are your thoughts about that, either one?

SECRETARY HERMAN: Bruce, do you want to comment?

MR. REED: I think you'll just have to wait for Joe. We haven't seen the opinion, don't have anything to add at this point.

Q Secretary Shalala, if I could ask on another topic --have you had a chance to review Senator Breaux's plan for Medicare reform and, maybe more specifically, what do you think of the central idea of premium support that he has in the plan?

SECRETARY SHALALA: We are in the process of reviewing it. I'm not sure we have enough detail to say anything other than we're going to be working with Senator Breaux and with the members of the commission.

Fundamentally, we have been open to different approaches as long as they protect people's health care; as long as at the end of the day people know that they're going to get a benefit package and we know what the costs are going to be to individuals. As you know, a very high percentage of them, Medicare recipients, get poorer as they get older, they don't have a lot of money, their out-of-pocket costs are already 20 percent, much of that tied up in pharmaceuticals.

So we will be looking at the details. And I think Senator Breaux said, himself, that he hasn't presented all the details, just the ideas. And we will be reviewing those and be talking to him and with other members of the commission.

MR. REED: And just keep in mind the principles that the President laid out in the State of the Union. We want to see 15 percent of surplus dedicated to make Medicare reform possible and extend the trust fund to 2020. We'd also like to see additional reforms that make it possible to extend the trust fund to 2020 and provide prescription drugs.

Q Thank you.

END 12:08 P.M. EST