Letter to Congressional Leaders on Welfare Reform
Dear Mr. Speaker:
This week, the historic national debate we have begun on welfare reform will move to the floor of the House of Representatives. Welfare reform is a top priority for my Administration and for Americans without regard to party. I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress to enact real reform that promotes work and responsibility and makes welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life.
In the last two years, we have put the country on the road to ending welfare as we know it. In 1993, when Congress passed our economic plan, we cut taxes for 15 million working Americans and rewarded work over welfare. We collected a record level of child support in 1993— $9 billion—and last month I signed an executive order to crack down on federal employees who owe child support. In two years, we have granted waivers from federal rules to 25 states, so that half the country is now carrying out significant welfare reform experiments that promote work and responsibility instead of undermining it.
I have always sought to make welfare reform a bipartisan issue. I still believe it can and must be. Unfortunately, the House Republican bill in its current form does not appear to offer the kind of real welfare reform that Americans in both parties expect. It is too weak on moving people from welfare to work, not as tough as it should be on deadbeat parents, and too tough on innocent children.
Last year, I sent Congress the most sweeping welfare reform plan any administration has ever presented. It did not pass, but I believe the principles and values at its core will be the basis of what ultimately does pass:
* First, the central goal of welfare reform must be moving people from welfare to work, where they will earn a paycheck, not a welfare check. I believe we should demand and reward work, not punish those who go to work. If people need child care or job skills in order to go to work, we should help them get it. But within two years, anyone who can work must go to work.
This is not a partisan issue: Last year, 162 of 175 House Republicans co-sponsored a bill, H.R. 3500, that promoted work in much the same way as our plan. But the current House Republican bill you will consider this week fails to promote work, and would actually make it harder for many recipients to make it in the workplace. It cuts child care for people trying to leave welfare and for working people trying to stay off welfare, removes any real responsibility for states to provide job placement and skills, and gives states a perverse incentive to cut people off whether or not they have moved into a job. When people just get cut off without going to work, that's not welfare reform. I urge you to pass a welfare reform bill that ends welfare as we know it by moving people from welfare to work.
* Second, welfare reform must make responsibility a way of life. We should demand responsibility from parents who bring children into the world, not let them off the hook and expect taxpayers to pick up the tab for their neglect. Last year, my Administration proposed the toughest child support enforcement measures ever put forward. If we collected all the money that deadbeat parents should pay, we could move 800,000 women and children off welfare immediately.
I am grateful to members in both parties for already agreeing to include most of the tough child support measures from our welfare reform plan. This week, I hope you will go further, and require states to deny drivers and professional licenses to parents who refuse to pay child support. We have to send a clear signal: No parent in America has a right to walk away from the responsibility to raise their children.
* Third, welfare reform should discourage teen pregnancy and promote responsible parenting. We must discourage irresponsible behavior that lands people on welfare in the first place, with a national campaign against teen pregnancy that lets young people know it is wrong to have a child outside marriage. Nobody should get pregnant or father a child who isn't prepared to raise the child, love the child, and take responsibility for the child's future.
I know members of Congress in both parties care about this issue. But many aspects of the current House plan would do more harm than good. Instead of refusing to help teen mothers and their children, we should require them to turn their lives around—to live at home with their parents, stay in school, and identify the child's father. We should demand responsible behavior from people on welfare, but it is wrong to make small children pay the price for their parents' mistakes.
* Finally, welfare reform should give states more flexibility in return for more accountability. I believe we must give states far more flexibility so they can do the things they want to today without seeking waivers. But in its current form, the House Republican bill may impede rather than promote reform and flexibility. The proposal leaves states vulnerable to economic recession and demographic change, putting working families at risk. States will have less money for child care, training, and other efforts to move people from welfare to work. And there will not be any accountability at the federal level for reducing fraud or protecting children. We will not achieve real reform or state flexibility if Congress just gives the states more burdens and less money, and fails to make work and responsibility the law of the land.
While the current House plan is weak on work, it is very tough on children. Cutting school lunches and getting tough on disabled children and children in foster care is not my idea of welfare reform. We all have a national interest in promoting the well-being of our children and in putting government back in line with our national values.
I appreciate all the work that you have done on this issue, and I am pleased that the country is finally engaging in this important debate. In the end, I believe we can work it out together, as long as we remember the values this debate is really about. The dignity of work, the bond of family, and the virtue of responsibility are not Republican values or Democratic values. They are American values—and no child in America should ever have to grow up without them.
NOTE: Identical letters were sent to Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Richard Gephardt, minority leader of the House of Representatives. This letter was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on March 21.
William J. Clinton, Letter to Congressional Leaders on Welfare Reform Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/221445