George W. Bush photo

Remarks at St. Stephen's Community House in Columbus, Ohio

May 10, 2002

Thanks for that warm Columbus, Ohio, welcome. It's nice to be back home—well—[laughter]—I say "home" because my grandfather was raised here, Prescott S. Bush, raised right here in Columbus, Ohio.

I want to thank you all for coming. I'm here—I want to talk about welfare today. I want to talk about how we make sure that we continue on the progress that we have made since 1996. Millions of Americans no longer are dependent upon Government, and that's incredibly positive not only for America but, more importantly, for each individual. It brings dignity to someone's life when they're on their own and successful.

The Congress is going to take up a reauthorization, they call it in Washington-speak, of this legislation. And I've got an idea how best to make it work, continue the reforms, and how to make it work better for Americans.

We're really here to talk about the dignity and worth of each individual American. And joining me today is a man who understands that, is my Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson. Tommy was the Governor of Wisconsin, who in 1996 helped lead the Nation in getting a welfare reform bill that helped people but also showed what is possible when you trust local officials, when you give them the flexibility necessary to design a program to meet the needs of the citizens of a community or a State. Tommy did a fabulous job as the Governor of Wisconsin in helping people, and he's doing a great job as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

I want to thank your Governor. He's a longtime friend of mine. He's a man who, when we look out of Washington—which we need to do a lot of, by the way—and look down at the States, it gives us great comfort to know that Governor Taft would be in a position to help implement and start and encourage the programs necessary to help people, whether it be in education or in helping people become less dependent upon Government. And I want to thank you, Bob, for your service and thank you for your leadership. I'm honored to call you friend, and the people of Ohio are honored to call you Governor.

I want to thank my friend, former Governor, a man with whom Tommy and I served as Governors, who is now the United States Senator from the State of Ohio, George Voinovich. George is traveling with us today. I'm honored that you're here, George.

Deborah Pryce, Pat Tiberi, Bob Ney, David Hobson, and Rob Portman, all members of a fantastic congressional delegation, are with us today as well. I want to thank you all for traveling here today and thank you for your friendship. I want to thank Michael Coleman, the mayor of Columbus, for joining us today. Mr. Mayor, thank you for being here; appreciate you coming. I want to thank the executive director of St. Stephen's Community House for letting us come.

Today, when I landed at the airport, I was greeted by a fellow named Gabe Wilson, who is a high school senior here. He's a fellow that takes time out of his day to help educate younger kids about the dangers of drug use. The reason I welcome Gabe and introduce him is because he understands that America can be better off, one person at a time. I like to put it this way: One person can't do everything, but one person can do something to help. He's a member of the army of the soldiers— he's a soldier in the army of compassion. Where are you, Gabe? Gabe, thank you for coming. [Applause]

You know, we've got big challenges ahead of our Nation. Obviously, one of the great challenges is to make sure that we protect our homeland, is to prevent the killers from harming any American, to do everything we can to chase them down and bring them to justice. That's a key priority, obviously, for me and my administration. It's a key priority to make the world peaceful, to seek the peace.

It's probably going to have to be a little tough to get there—have to defend our values, stand up for what we believe, not let people harm us. But we seek the peace. We seek the peace. We work to make the world more secure. But as we do so, we need to make—work hard to make the world better, too, a better place.

The best place to start is here at home. The best place to start is to make sure every child gets educated in America—I mean every child. Got good legislation that we passed. Believe it or not, actually, Republicans and Democrats worked together to get it done. We put aside our political parties and focused on what was right for America. And that's important—that's important.

And we need to do the same thing on helping people who are on welfare. We need to set aside our political parties and focus on what is best for the American people. Let's do what works. Let's make sure that we help people.

So today I do want to talk about welfare reform. We've come to St. Stephen's Community House because it is a living example of flexibility in the welfare law, what it means. It is a living example of what we call a one-stop center, where people who need help are able to come and find help to help themselves. I understand that this is a—kind of a welcoming center for people who are transitioning, a place where people can find all-important job training or childcare or counseling—just the help they need.

I am impressed by the programs that are here in the building and equally impressed by the fact that the county has taken a strong and active role. The United Way has taken an active role. The Catholic Church plays an active role here at St. Stephen's, and so do other individuals and community groups. It's important for there to be a collaborative effort in helping people, and this center recognizes that. It welcomes all the social entrepreneurs who are willing to help.

As we reauthorize the welfare bill, it is essential that we always remember the importance of work in our society, that work helps people achieve the dignity in their lives. If you believe that every person has got value, like I believe, then we ought to help that person find work. It's the cornerstone of the last—one of the cornerstones of the last welfare reform bills that has worked, by the way—it is successful— and it ought to be the cornerstone of the reauthorization. If work made a huge difference in people's lives as a result of the '96 bill, it ought to be a significant part of the reauthorization.

And so Congress must understand the power of work, and we must continue with time limits and high goals and high expectations. Within 5 years, 70 percent of the welfare recipients must work. We're saying, from the time the bill is reauthorized until 5 years later, the goal is that 70 percent of those on welfare, those remaining on welfare, must find a job. Oh, I've heard them complain about that's too high a goal. It's not too high a goal if it helps a per-son—that helps a person. If it brings dignity into someone's life, it is not too high a goal.

And we're going to help. That's what St. Stephen's is here for. That's why we've got to have flexibility. We want to help people find the work. Right, Dannetta? I need to let Dannetta get up here and talk. She knows what she's talking about. She said to us, in a meeting we had before, she said the most important thing in the success of the '96 bill was there to be time limits on people being able to stay on welfare, that there be a time certain, so that people get moving.

I not only believe there ought to be time limits; I believe there ought to be strict goals, too—high expectations. The higher the expectations, the more likely it is people are going to succeed.

As part of the 40-hour workweek requirement, of course, we recognize that people need education and vocational help. And so part of meeting the work requirement is to allow for 2 days each week for vocational training and educational training. So in other words, part of the vision is to say, "You'll get work. We want to help you get work, and we recognize the importance of job training and vocational training to help people find the skills necessary to find jobs that actually exist," like they do right here at St. Stephen's.

Now, one of the keys to make sure— now, if we set high goals and high standards and high expectations, we've got to recognize that it's important to give flexibility to States and local authorities to achieve those goals. In order to achieve the expectations, you've got to trust local people. If you don't trust local people, it means everybody in Washington is making the decision. It's not going to work with everybody in Washington making the decision. There needs to be flexibility.

I was struck today on our discussions about the fact that a lot of folks from Somalia have come to Columbus. I met a young lady—there she is—who came from Somalia, who came—barely speak English; she got help. Needed job skills; she got help. She now owns her own business in America, because the program had flexibility to meet her particular needs. And we need to have flexibility—as we call it, the ticket to independence—that gives States the freedom to innovate and to create programs that meet local needs.

Oh, some in Washington don't like that because they want to control everything out of Washington. But if you're interested in helping people, we've got to empower people at the local level to help people in need.

I'll give you an example of some of the roadblocks that Federal regulations create, all the rules, all the fine print, Mr. Mayor, all the thick layers of booklets. The Governor's explained to me this case, and it's interesting. There's a single mom with two daughters here in Ohio. One of the daughters is disabled, and the other daughter is working at—she's 17 years old—to help the family. She's working part time. Because she was 17 years old, her income didn't count in the formula to decide whether or not the family was eligible for food stamps. Guess what happened on her 18th birthday? All of a sudden, her income, because of a rule or regulation, starts to count. Even though the income level of the family didn't increase, they lost their food stamps.

Now, that's not what a compassionate America is all about. When people need help, we need to help them. Now, it's conservative to trust local people, but it's compassionate to provide flexibility so that rules and regulations don't prevent people from getting the help we want them to get. What ought to happen is, the State of Ohio should have the flexibility necessary to allow that young girl and her family to receive food stamps as a transition period to full-time employment. In other words, it ought to be a part of the transition from welfare to work, but that's not the way the food stamp program works.

And I'll tell you what else happens with a system that is too bureaucratic and too focused on rules and regulations. The administrative costs of these programs end up putting money not in the pockets of people we're trying to help, but in—as a result of the bean counters, you know, how do you keep track of what's going on? The more complicated the rules and regulations out of Washington, the more money States have to spend to account for the money.

And I'll give you an example. On the food stamp program here, the State of Ohio spent $192 million administering the program. The program provides $573 million of benefits. That is a high cost per dollar delivered. It's about 25 percent overhead cost. Now, I'll tell you, a lot of that money—with fewer rules and regulations, a lot of that money would end up going to benefit people. And that's important for the American people to understand. The more regulations there are out of Washington, the more complex the Washington, DC, regulations are, the more likely it is money is not going to end up helping people.

And therefore, for the good of the people we're trying to help, flexibility out of Washington—no-strings-attached type legislation—not only will help people; it'll be more efficient with our taxpayers' money. After all, if you look at the success of the TANF program, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Family program, the overhead cost in those programs as a result of the flexibility at the local level is only 10 percent—is only 10 percent. I hope Congress understands that granting States flexibility not only will help people we're trying to help but will make it easier to spend our dollars in a more efficient way.

We had some great success—we met with some great success stories. Josef, where are you? Josef is a man—as a result of flexibility in the program in Dayton, Ohio, Dannetta was able to take some TANF funds and some work assistance funds, and Josef is now becoming a computer expert. Yes, he's going to end up— [applause].

One of the important things about the future of our country is to remember some important values. One of the most important values in America is our family values, the importance of family in our country. Now look, I recognize that not every marriage is going to survive; I know that. And I recognize some folks, you know, are just going to find it impossible to stay married, and I know that. But I firmly believe that in order to make the welfare program work, in order to help people, that wherever couples seek help in trying to figure out how to save a marriage, our Government ought to be responsive to that need.

The statistics show that when moms and dads raise a child, when moms and dads stay together, that child is much more likely to succeed. It's an important—it's never to diminish the fact—listen, being a single mom raising a child is the toughest job in America. I know that. But wherever possible, we ought to promote and encourage programs that help save marriage, foster family, encourage families. That ought to be a focus of the welfare reform. We've got money in the budget to do just that.

Today we met with Melvin and Rhonda Tuggle. Where are the Tuggles? There they are. Thank you all for coming. These are folks that had—that had children. They had income, but it was certainly not enough to meet the needs of their three children. The economic struggles put a huge strain on their marriage. They split apart. Thankfully, in the city of Cincinnati, Rhonda sought help, sought a job training program to help her out. But one of the interesting things that she found in the program was the willingness of the folks there to help work to save her marriage.

In other words, you know, in a compartmentalized world, no one ever would have thought to have a marriage counseling be a part of somebody trying to help find a job, but these good people did. They understood the importance of family, the importance of encouraging moms and dads to stay together.

As a result of a social entrepreneur working hard to help save a soul, the Tuggles not only have helped improve themselves by better job training and better jobs, but they received the counseling necessary to encourage them to stay married. They had another child. They're together. Their four children now have a much better future as a result of the decision they made. We must have the courage in America to promote and encourage stable families for the good of our children.

It's also important to help our young children learn to make right choices in life, to help them understand consequences of choices. One of the parts of our welfare reform reauthorization is to promote abstinence, is to be willing as a society—[applause]. I've heard all the reasons why we shouldn't. Let me give you a reason why we should: It works every time. [Laughter]

And finally, in order to complete our welfare vision, which says we're going to help everybody in America, that every individual has got worth and dignity, we must not be afraid to rally faith-based programs in America. There's legislation in Washington that will encourage charitable giving, allow non-itemizers to deduct their charitable gifts, which the experts tell me will increase charitable giving immeasurably in America, and that's good. It's important. Part of the legislation, the Faith-Based Initiative which has passed the House and hasn't passed the Senate yet—it needs to get out of the Senate, by the way—is to recognize that our Government should allow faith-based programs to access Federal dollars, to help people in need without causing them to have to lose the heart and soul of their mission.

Government has got to recognize that love and compassion are oftentimes the result of strong faith. In order to help heal broken hearts and save broken lives, we need love and compassion. There are pockets of despair and hopelessness in America that we must be addressing. Money helps, obviously, but it cannot put faith in people's lives, or hope. That requires compassion and decency.

I talk a lot in America about this war on terror, obviously. Part of my job is to educate the American people about how long it's going to take to defend ourselves. And it's going to take a while. But I also tell people, and I truly believe this, that out of the evil done to America can come incredible good. Part of the good is going to be peace. Part of the good is going to be a more compassionate America.

My call to the good folks of Columbus, Ohio, is to become involved in helping a neighbor in need. If you really want to join the war against terror, do some good. People say, "How can I fight the war against terror?" And the answer is, love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself.

The Faith-Based Initiative relates to welfare that way. Loving a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself is the natural extension of welfare reform. The best way to save some folks from drug and alcohol abuse is to recognize faith can change hearts and therefore change lives. The best way to help a child who may wonder whether or not he or she has a future in America—and there's a lot who wonder that—is to encourage a loving mentor and welcome a loving mentor in their lives. The best way to encourage the homeless to recognize that there—somebody cares, is for a church or a synagogue or a mosque to rally a program to help the homeless.

No, this is a great country, because we're full of great people. The strength of our country is not really in the halls of Govern-ment—our system is great; it's magnificent—but the true strength of America lies in the fact that there are millions of Americans who want to help a neighbor in need. The role of the Government is to recognize that power and that goodness of the American people, and structure our welfare laws that welcome and encourage and foster the greatness of the country.

Every American has got dignity. Every American has got value. And we want to make sure our laws welcome that—understand that. This is a welcoming country. And when we get the welfare reauthorization bill right, it's going to be even more welcoming.

Listen, thank you for letting me come and talk to you all. You live in the greatest country in the face of the Earth. May God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:52 a.m. in the gymnasium. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio; Judith Stattmiller, executive director, St. Stephen's Community House; Dannetta Graves, director, Montgomery County Department of Job and Family Services; and Ramla Munye and Josef Pol-lard, who were both helped by job assistance programs.

George W. Bush, Remarks at St. Stephen's Community House in Columbus, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives