Good morning. I'm speaking to you from Hanoi, Vietnam, where I'm working to fulfill America's commitment to the families of those still missing from the war and opening a hopeful new chapter in our relationship with Vietnam and its people. Today I want to talk to you, however, about the new steps we're taking at home to strengthen our working families.
It may be hard to remember, but just 8 years ago many Americans were out of work, and Washington was out of ideas. Our economy was stagnant, burdened by a crushing debt and rising unemployment. I said I would work hard to turn the country around, to create a situation where everybody who was willing to work and take responsibility has the opportunity to live the American dream.
Since then we've worked hard to restore the value of work, increasing the minimum wage, expanding the earned-income tax credit, helping more than 15 million Americans work their way out of poverty toward the middle class. Congress passed the family and medical leave law, which has given over 20 million Americans the chance to take time off from work to care for a newborn child or a sick loved one. And we passed welfare reform, ending welfare as we knew it, cutting the welfare rolls in half, to their lowest levels in 32 years, and helping millions of parents move into the work force.
We were able to do this while protecting health care and nutrition for children, investing more in child care, transportation, and housing, to help parents go to work and to succeed at home and at work.
By rewarding work and promoting responsibility, we've helped put the American family back on top again, with 22 million new jobs, the lowest poverty in 20 years, the lowest Hispanic- and African-American unemployment ever recorded, and the highest homeownership in history. While we have made great progress, no one who works hard every day should have trouble putting food on the table at night. And the fact is there are still too many hard-pressed families struggling to get ahead and to make the often difficult transition from welfare to work.
Every day 17 million of our fellow Americans rely on food stamps for proper nourishment. These food stamps allow parents to give their children the necessities while getting their own feet on the ground. But as they return to work and struggle to make ends meet, many don't realize they're still eligible for food stamps. And in some States, parents who do sign up for food stamps have to fill out paperwork as often as once a month, and leave the workplace in order to do so.
Now, this simply should not be the case. So today I'm announcing new steps to remove some of the barriers facing working Americans and to help the families get the food they need.
First, it would allow States to provide recipients with an automatic 3-month food stamp benefit as they make the transition from welfare to work. This gives new workers stability in what can be a trying time. Second, we're eliminating unnecessary bureaucracies by allowing recipients up to 6 months to report income changes, reducing the amount of time they spend in food stamp offices. Third, if we want people to work, they need to be able to get to work. Today's action will make it easier for food stamp recipients to own a dependable car without having to sacrifice proper nutrition for their children. This builds on the steps we took in the Agriculture appropriation bill I signed last month. Finally, to ensure that the families who need assistance get it, we are requiring States to let recipients know that they're still eligible for food stamps when they start to work again.
Supporting hard-pressed working families is the right policy for America. It's also the smart thing to do. It encourages millions of people to take responsibility to strengthen their families, as well as our economy. I urge our Nation's Governors to implement these steps so that all working families get the nutritional benefits they need and deserve. And again I call on Congress to restore food stamp benefits to hard-working legal immigrants and to raise the minimum wage for all working families this year. No family working full-time and playing by the rules should have to raise children in poverty. In the coming weeks, Congress still has the chance to honor and award work by raising the minimum wage for our hardest pressed working families.
Thirty years ago Robert Kennedy reminded us that work is the meaning of what the country is all about. With the actions outlined today, we can create new opportunities for hard-working families and move our Nation closer to the time when everyone willing to work for it can achieve the American dream.
Thanks for listening.