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Public Papers - 1992

Radio Address to the Nation on Welfare Reform

1992-04-11

The American people have always been a people constantly searching for improvement, impatient for change when things need changing. Last week I spoke about the need for a change here in Washington, for Government reform, especially congressional reform. Today I want to focus on reforming our welfare system, especially on our Government's role in that reform process.

After years of trying to help those who are in need, we have found that too often our assistance does not help people out of poverty; it traps them there. It's not that people stopped caring; it's that the system stopped working. We want a welfare system that breaks the cycle of dependency before dignity is destroyed and before poverty becomes a family legacy. But today we must face this fact: Our system has failed.

I have repeatedly called for the forging of Federal-State partnerships that would make welfare reform a powerful, effective reality. Yesterday, at my direction, the Federal Government waived outdated rules to allow Wisconsin to try a new kind of welfare reform. The Wisconsin plan replaces some of the old assumptions of the welfare state and recognizes the importance of personal responsibility, self-respect, independence, and self-sufficiency.

In my State of the Union Address, I made a commitment to make it quicker and easier for States with welfare reform ideas to get the Federal waivers they need. By approving Wisconsin's waivers 24 days after we received their request, that commitment now has the force of action. I want to commend Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, and I want to challenge other States to propose their own reforms.

We must balance America's generous heart with our responsibility to the taxpayers who underwrite governmental assistance. Our assistance should in no way encourage dependency or undermine our Nation's economic competitiveness. We pay twice for those who make welfare a way of life: once for the initial benefits, but even more because the Nation loses their contribution to the Nation's economic well-being.

Those who receive Government assistance have certain responsibilities: the responsibility to seek work or get education and training that will help them get a job, and the responsibility to get their lives in order. That means establishing lifestyles that will enable them to fulfill their potential, not destroy it.

We have responsibilities, too. We must structure our welfare programs so that they reverse policies which lock in a lifestyle of dependency and subtly destroy self-esteem. We must encourage family formation and family stability. Too often our welfare programs have encouraged exactly the opposite.

We must incorporate incentives for recipients to stay in school. For instance, in Wisconsin, teen parents are required by the Learnfare program to stay in school to obtain full benefits. They recognize that in many respects opportunity is equated with education. And I'll have more to say about the urgent need for educational reform next week as we mark the first anniversary of the crusade that I call America 2000.

My approach to welfare reform should not only open the doors of opportunity for our citizens who are on public assistance but also prepare them to walk proudly and competently through those doors. Our goal is to build a system of welfare that will encourage self-respect, build strength of character, and develop to the fullest each individual's potential for a productive, meaningful life.

Thank you for listening. And may God bless the United States of America.

Note: This address was recorded at 8:15 a.m. on April 10 in the Oval Office at the White House for broadcast after 9 a.m. on April 11.

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