a privilege and a pleasure to be with all of you today to discuss
the next bold step in the transformation of welfare reform. Ed
Feulner has built the Heritage Foundation into the premier
conservative think tank in the nation. Heritage has had a profound
and positive influence on national policy for more than two
decades. I have benefited so much from Heritage's good counsel and
thoughtful work, and I thank you so very much for it.
my great home state of Wisconsin, we began in the 1980s to deal
head-on with a system that was entrapping the very people it was
designed to help. I will never forget a woman coming up to me in
Milwaukee when I first ran for governor in 1986 and saying, "Please
do something about welfare. It's killing us."
and her two children were relying on welfare checks to make ends
meet. Instead of helping them, welfare was discouraging exactly the
kinds of things--employment, job training, better education--that
she needed to move out of dependency and into the mainstream of
made up my mind to do something, and together with some very brave
and dedicated people, we acted.
brought welfare mothers to the Governor's Residence for lunch and
asked them what the barriers were to them working and being
independent. I found they wanted to work, but no one believed in
they needed basic help that would allow them to go to work, such as
child care and health care for their children. So together, we
created a better way. We reformed the system so that it empowered
people to begin climbing out of poverty, helping them go to work
and take care of their children's needs.
OFF WELFARE, AND BETTER OFF
actions--the reforms we put through--worked. The number of people
on welfare in Wisconsin fell from about 100,000 families when I
first took office to a caseload of about 6,700 people when I left
office last year.
the national scale, things have been every bit as dramatic. When
welfare reform began nationwide, 12.2 million Americans were on the
rolls. Now, that number is a bit less than 5.3 million. Child
poverty rates are at their lowest level since 1978, with child
poverty rates for African-Americans and female-headed households at
their lowest levels ever. And those people are not just off
welfare--they are better off.
are building better lives; learning career skills; breaking the
cycle of dependency that once trapped generations of Americans. And
they are creating, instead, a cycle of independence and dignity for
should tell you, too, that the numbers keep falling nationwide. The
number of people receiving assistance under the Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program declined between
October 2001 and December 2001, the latest reporting period in
which individual state figures are available. That was during a
downturn in the economy, as you know.
latest statistics from the Administration for Children and Families
show that during that time, the number of recipients of TANF
benefits declined by 1 percent, from roughly 5.34 million to about
despite the soft economy and the attacks of September 11, the
national welfare caseload did not increase. This is a testimony to
the effectiveness of the TANF program and, more importantly, to the
resiliency of the American people themselves.
of that said, our goal has never been simply to cut the welfare
rolls. We could just end funding and welfare would simply
so would the hopes and dreams of millions of people who, for far
too long, have lacked the opportunity, training, and basic life
skills needed to fulfill even modest aspirations. So, we gave new
hope to so many people who, for far too long, saw their own
American Dreams fading into an unreachable distance.
me underscore this point: The opponents of welfare reform seem to
think that people on welfare are helpless, that they are powerless
and unable to help themselves.
TRUE REFORM IS ABOUT EMPOWERMENT
conservatives deny that notion outright. Americans aren't
victims--we're free citizens. We have been endowed by our Creator
with certain rights that no government can or should attempt to
That's why true welfare reform is about
empowerment: about helping everyone gain a firm foothold on the
solid ground of personal opportunity, professional advancement, and
a healthy family.
Americans and as conservatives, we believe what the Founding
Fathers believed: Every life is important. Every person has innate,
God-given value. Every citizen deserves opportunity. And every
child deserves a future.
years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt got to the heart of the matter
when he described government assistance as "a narcotic, a subtle
destroyer of the human spirit." That's more than an eloquent
statement by an icon of the Democratic Party. It's dead right.
That's why President Bush and I want to
take the next bold step in welfare reform, a step that will help
guarantee that the progress we have made so far will continue and
must be done to reach those who have yet to benefit from the
progress we have made over the past six years. We need to move
beyond the new status quo of the existing TANF law and improve the
program so that it completes the transition of individuals from the
dependence of a welfare check to the independence of a
have put forth a reauthorization plan that sets high standards for
states but gives them the flexibility and resources to meet those
WORK IS KEY
heart of our program is work--long-term, sustainable, and
remunerative work. My friends, there can't be too many things
either more compassionate or more common sense-oriented than
you want to help someone get out of poverty, help him or her gain
the skills needed to become employable. Work with employers to
craft programs that will encourage them to hire people eager for a
chance and needing a job.
That's just what we've done by providing
states $16.5 billion to develop job programs involving everything
from basic skills training to employment experience to help move
people from a welfare check to a paycheck.
plan raises the bar by requiring a 40-hour workweek. A full week of
work or other constructive activities must be our goal if we are to
truly help individuals dependent on welfare to become integrated
into the workforce. After all, 40 hours is the standard workweek
for men and women across America.
the plan provides increased flexibility to help individuals meet
this societal standard. An individual can spend 16 hours of those
40 hours in school, job training, or alcohol and drug treatment.
Put simply, that's three days of work and two days of school. This
provides the right balance between requiring work and helping
workers overcome barriers to getting the skills needed to succeed
on the job.
were in the corporate world, by the way, I would love this
provision--having the government pay to give me a skilled workforce
of aspiring new employees. That's an entrepreneur's dream.
plan also allows states to designate a number of activities as work
for four months within any 24-month period for each client. This
provision is designed to enable states to get recipients into jobs
or prepared for work with intensive short-term training or
substance abuse treatment.
are providing states even further flexibility in the form of
broader waiver authority--also called a "superwaiver"--that
streamlines many federal work and assistance programs, giving
states more latitude to mold these programs to meet the unique
needs of their citizens.
should note that last week the House took the first big step
towards reauthorizing TANF and passed a strong bill that reflected
the proposal that the President announced last February.
we wait on the Senate. I hope not for too long, since the first
step of welfare reform worked because governors, states, and the
Congress didn't shy away from a tough challenge or high
expectations. Rather, they embraced the opportunity to provide a
better way of life for millions of Americans trapped in poverty by
a welfare check.
me pause to mention that my friends the governors and my friends in
the U.S. Senate need to act with the same courage as they did in
1996. We cannot rest on a partial victory. The more than five
million Americans currently on welfare deserve more than a two
steps forward and one step back. They deserve our best effort. And
that's what our plan offers.
key part of our plan is a renewed emphasis on the importance of the
formation and maintenance of healthy two-parent families. The
Administration seeks to allocate up to $300 million for states to
voluntarily study how they can promote healthy families by
encouraging programs designed to strengthen the family structure--a
concept that has long had and continues to have strong bipartisan
Programs could include pre-marital
education and counseling, as well as research and technical
assistance into promising approaches for promoting strong
my judgment, providing these kinds of services is just common
sense. We know that children raised with married parents are much
better off than those in a household without both a mom and a
also want to remove disincentives to marriage under the welfare
system so that low-income couples that choose to marry are not
penalized. For example, we would require states to provide
equitable treatment for two-parent married families, and we would
eliminate the separate two-parent family work participation
if we can provide people with the skills they need to know how to
present themselves at a job, how to work effectively and
productively, and with the services they need to help them care for
their kids and have health care and get to work on time, why is it
so astonishing that we want to offer them help in building strong
are also focusing as never before on funding effective abstinence
programs. As the President has said, abstinence is the only
guaranteed way of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually
transmitted disease. There can be few more valuable lessons for us
to communicate to our young people than that.
President's budget reflects a $33 million increase over 2002
funding for abstinence-only education, fulfilling the President's
pledge to fund abstinence-only programs at $135 million.
is an unprecedented investment in teen abstinence education. For
the first time, the federal government has demonstrated its
commitment to bringing equity to the message of abstinence and teen
That's a brief sketch of what we're doing.
The first stage of welfare reform brought unprecedented success.
Millions of Americans now know the reward of work. Welfare mothers
have found their long-lost self-esteem. All this is proof that
welfare reform is having a positive impact on children.
We've made so much progress that it would
be irresponsible to now cling to the status quo when the potential
to truly help families climb out of poverty is within our
great mentor, Ronald Reagan, was pained by the legacy of a system
that enmeshed people in dependency and, often, despair. He reminded
us that we must not "perpetuate poverty by substituting a permanent
dole for a paycheck. There is no humanity or charity in destroying
self-reliance, dignity, and self-respect."
in that spirit we are taking the next bold--and
compassionate--step. And I look forward to joining with all of you
at Heritage as we take that step together.
The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson is U.S.
Secretary of Health and Human Services.