View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 4, 1999
                            TO THE NATION

                           The Oval Office

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Yesterday, we crossed an historic threshold with the creation of more than 20 million new jobs since January 1993. This is a great American achievement, and further proof of the health of our economy, which now has given us the longest peacetime expansion in our nation's history. Today, I want to talk about a group of new workers who, just a few short years ago, were virtually locked out of our growing economy, and their chance at the American dream -- the more than one million Americans who are now moving from welfare to work every year.

Seven years ago, I asked the American people to join me in ending welfare as we know it. In 1996, with bipartisan support, we passed a landmark welfare reform bill. Today, I am pleased to announce that we've cut the rolls by more than half. Fewer Americans are on welfare today than at any time since 1969, 30 years ago. We're moving more than a million people a year from the welfare rolls to the payrolls -- 1.3 million in 1998 alone. And most of the people who get jobs are keeping them. They're getting raises and paying taxes, and teaching their children to honor the dignity of work.

We've changed the culture of welfare from one that fostered dependence to one that honors and rewards work. That's why I fought to create high-performance bonuses for states that do the most for parents entering the work force. I am pleased to announce the first of those awards today.

Twenty-seven states will share $200 million in bonuses for four categories: how many people they've placed in jobs; how well those people did at keeping their jobs and improving their wages; the biggest improvement in job placement; and the biggest improvement in on-the-job success. The states ranked highest were Indiana, Minnesota, Washington, and Florida. I congratulate these states for their achievement. If every state had performed as well as Indiana in placing workers in jobs, we would have helped more than twice as many people go to work last year. I challenge every state to invest its welfare reform resources in helping people to succeed at work.

This is not just about numbers. It's about real people. People like Wendy Waxler of Washington, D.C. Wendy wanted a job, but needed time to care for her daughter, who has cerebral palsy. She couldn't afford to lose the Medicaid that paid the doctor's bills. Through welfare-to-work, Wendy found a flexible job, and kept Medicaid and food stamps at first. Now she and her daughter have health insurance, and Wendy has new confidence and new dreams.

People like Wendy Waxler are an asset our economy simply cannot afford to waste, so we must do more to support working families and people who are trying to turn their lives around. That's why I've asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, so that a full-time job is a real ticket out of poverty. It's why we won new resources, and will fight for more, for our New Markets Initiative, to make it easier for businesses and banks to investment in America's poorest communities; and why I'm asking Congress to increase our commitment to quality child care.

All of us have a moral responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that every eligible family receives health care and nutritional assistance, so all our children can grow up healthy. I fought hard to ensure that the welfare reform law guaranteed these critical supports. Now our administration is taking steps to hold states accountable and make sure families get the benefits they need. Today, I am also announcing new performance bonuses like the ones I just awarded for states that do the best at enrolling eligible families in Medicaid and food stamps.

Finally, the old welfare system actually weakened families, by discouraging couples from marrying or living with their children. We want to change that, so starting next year there will also be bonuses for states that do the most to get poor children into two-parent homes, where we know they have the best chance of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Supporting hard-pressed working families and helping people to make the transition from welfare to work isn't just the right thing to do, it's also the smart thing. It encourages millions of people to take responsibility for their families, their future. In so doing, it expands opportunity and strengthens our economy, and builds a healthier future for all of us.

Thanks for listening.