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Bush Makes Welfare Remarks

Aired January 14, 2003 - 13:44   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we want to take you live to the East Room of the White House where President Bush is addressing -- or making remarks, rather, on welfare reform. Let's listen in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... I want to thank her family for being here as well.

Both women show us that dignity that comes with work and the great hopes that have been realized through the welfare reform.

The welfare law of 1996 has enabled millions of Americans to build better lives, better lives for themselves, better lives for their families, enhanced, better lives for our country.

The time has come to strengthen that law, and that's what I want to talk about today. Leading the charge will be the Department of Health and Human Services leader Tommy Thompson.

And I appreciate Tommy -- Tommy, when he was the governor of Wisconsin, was on the leading edge of welfare change. He was an innovative governor. He's an innovative Cabinet officer as well.

And I appreciate Elaine Chao for being here as well. She's the secretary of the Department of Labor. When we're interested in jobs, we think about the Department of Labor.

So thank you for coming, Elaine, I appreciate your work.

I appreciate Bob Woodson for being here -- Woody (ph). Thanks for coming. He's the director of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. Enterprise.

He's one of the innovative thinkers about how to best help people help themselves in America, to make sure that hope extends to all neighborhoods, not just some neighborhoods, but every neighborhood in our country.

I appreciate Rodney Carroll, who's the president and CEO of the Welfare to Work Partnership. His job has been to gather up people who are willing to help people go from welfare 4to work, and he's done a magnificent job.

I remember well our meeting in Chicago with the Big Brown (ph), UPS, which is one of the leading companies in America to helping people find the dignity of work. And we sat there on the stage and heard the stories of those who have gone from welfare to work.

Must have made you feel good, Rodney, because you had a lot to do with helping these individuals. So thanks for coming.

John Gregory's (ph) the president of TEACH (ph), the enrichment association of community healing. I appreciate John (ph) being here and all the reset of you for coming. Welcome. Glad you're here.

The reforms of the 1990s recognized that people on welfare are not charges of the state, they're citizens of this country, with abilities and aspirations. Both parties in Congress realized that welfare system as we knew it sapped the soul and drained the spirit from our citizens. They came together, people of both parties, to put an end to the culture of dependency that welfare had created.

The obligation of government did not end with mailing of a check, and that's important for our citizens to realize. Men and women deserved a chance to learn new skills. That was an obligation of government, to help people learn to use their talent so that they could realize dreams, to gain the fulfillment of a sense of purpose that comes with striving and working and providing for their own families.

In the seven years since welfare was reformed, millions of Americans have shared in this experience. Their lives and our country are better off. Today more than 2 million fewer families are on welfare, 2 million fewer than in 1996. It's a reduction of 54 percent.

That's a number, but behind each number is a life, and that's important to recognize. In Washington we spend a lot of time talking about numbers, and that's OK. It's kind of a measuring tool. But we also got to remember, with each number is somebody's aspiration and hope.

During the period from 1996 to 2001, the percentage of welfare recipients who are working tripled. That's incredibly positive news. According to the most recent census data, the poverty rate amongst Hispanic children has reached the lowest level in over 20 years; the poverty rate among African American children is the lowest ever recorded. There's a correlation, it seems like to me.

Behind these statistics are great personal achievements. Adversity has been overcome and lives have changed forever. I've met people all around our country who can share their stories of hard work and fighting odds that have been stacked against them. Moms and dads who battled addiction and have overcome addiction. Folks who have had trouble holding a job and then found out that they could and realized their dreams.

The welfare law is a success because it puts government on the side of personal responsibility and has helped people change their life for the better, helped people realize their dreams, helped people help themselves. That's the key aspect of the -- one of the key principles of the law that makes a lot of sense, that helped make this law effective. Last year, the House of Representatives passed legislation to build on the successes of the 1996 welfare reform law. They did so because they want more Americans to know the pride and success that come from hard work. The law that passed the House will require 40 hours of work each week. There was a serious requirement for work.

Of the 40 hours, 16 of those could be used for job training or education, and when needed, treatment for addiction.

In other words, the 40 hours of work was -- part of that 40 hours was helping people help themselves, and that's an important aspect of any law that encourages people to go from welfare to work.

The House bill set an ambitious goal for states: to have 70 percent of the welfare recipients working within a five-year period of time. We encouraged them to think that way, because we believe in setting a high bar. We believe in the best. We don't accept mediocrity.

Some say it's asking too much, but a lot of those voices were the same ones that said the 1996 law was flawed. In other words, they have low expectations for what is possible in this society.

Skepticism is refuted every single day, however, when we meet the hard-won successes from former welfare recipients. That's the best case that we can make, those of us who believe and expecting the best and working hard to achieve the best.

PHILLIPS: President Bush making remarks on welfare reform there at the East Room of the White House. We'll continue to monitor this. If anything pertinent comes out of that, we will let you know.


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