This afternoon, President Clinton addressed the Southern Governors Association Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. He spoke about welfare reform.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The thing I loved most about being a governor was that the job was a lot more about what are we going to do than who are we going to blame. And in Washington, I think in part because it's so far from where people live and you have to pierce through all the layers between you and the folks back home that too often it becomes more about who to blame than what to do. I do believe that this business about what to do and not who to blame is going to be brought into play more powerfully on the issue of welfare reform than any other issue in recent history. And I'd like to ask you all just to stop a few minutes and think with me about what it means.
First, let me say the states should be very proud of themselves. Our administration has now given 77 waivers to 43 states who have moved 1.8 million people from welfare to work. That's a pretty good record. The new welfare reform law dramatically increases the possibilities of moving people from welfare to work, and the requirements to do so. And just to basically review what the law does, it says essentially this--there will continue to be a national guarantee funded by the federal and state governments of health care, nutrition, and now more child care for people who move from welfare to work, but that portion of our welfare expenditures that used to go in monthly entitlement checks to welfare recipients will now go to the states in a big block of money, and they, in turn, will have to move people who are able-bodied from welfare to work within two years, and in no case can able-bodied people have more than five years total of welfare benefits unless there are extenuating circumstances, in which case the states can keep a little money back aside to deal with the odd case that always comes up that doesn't quite fit anybody's formula.
Now, this law isn't perfect, and I've said what I think is wrong with it, and I want to say a special thanks to at least two members of the Southern Governors, Gov. George Bush and Gov. Lawton Chiles, for agreeing with my position on the ill-advised nature of cutting off all benefits to all legal immigrants no matter what happens to them. And I hope we can change that. (applause) But--(applause)--but I signed this bill because it gives us an historic opportunity and, therefore, an historic responsibility to really change the culture of welfare. And I think we cannot minimize that. And so I come here today to say to the governors, you asked for this, and now you got it. (applause) And you know--(applause)--I know--(applause)--I know that Tennessee is one of the states of the Southern Governors Conference and that very famous philosopher from Tennessee, Ted Atkins, who occasionally plays guitar as well, and I think is a good Republican, Governors--I once heard him say, you know, you got to be careful what you ask for in this old life, you might get it.
And, uh, so we asked for it, and I wanted it, and now we have it. And so it's no longer a political issue. It's no longer occasions for finger pointing. And none of our one-liners amount to a hill of beans anymore. We need to all throw away our welfare speech. The only thing that matters now is whether we are going to give the opportunity, not the guarantee but the opportunity for dignity and purpose and meaning in life to help more people live up to their God given potential as parents and as workers. And nobody who's thinking about the 21st century wants America to have a big permanent underclass. Nobody wants us to continue to split apart in terms of income.
Anybody that can visualize the future wants us to be coming together and celebrating our diversity and having it be a source of strength, and seeing every child have a real chance and believe that he or she has a chance to live up to the fullest of their God given abilities. That's what this is all about. And this is the best chance we've had to do that in a long time. That's all this bill does; it gives us a chance. If we fail, it will exact a higher price from us than the old system did. But the old system would never have given us a chance to succeed. And that's why I took the gamble I did. I'm glad I did, and I believe if we work together and learn from those who have done it, in about four or five years, we're all going to be very proud of what each of us did to make real welfare reform a reality because there will be more people like these fine women sitting here on this front row who can stand up and say, I'm earning a living, I'm supporting my child, I live in a crime-free neighborhood, my child goes to a good school where the parents participate, and our country is coming together because our communities are coming together around people who are given a chance to succeed if they're responsible. That's my dream, and I think we can make it happen. Thank you, and God bless you. (applause)