Governor Pete Wilson's Remarks at the The Orange County
Joint Chambers Waterfront Hilton, Huntington Beach
Wednesday, August 17, 1994
Have you ever heard of a government program that actually did what it was supposed
to do? Well, believe it or not, the welfare system did . . . for a time.
Welfare was created in the 1930s to help women who were widowed or divorced. In
those days, fewer than 4 percent of mothers were unmarried, divorce was rare, and
women weren't expected to work outside the home.
Welfare was meant to take the place of the working husband for these divorced and
widowed women. And it did.
But today, welfare serves a very different population, and California's welfare rolls
have exploded. In fact, our welfare population is bigger than the entire populations
of 19 separate states.
And you might think, "Well, sure, it's because of the economy." But even
in the 1980's when our economy was booming, so was our teen pregnancy rate, and so
was our welfare population.
Today, one-third of all births in our state are to unwed mothers. And more than
half of the adult women on welfare in California had their first child as a teenager.
Our welfare system no longer works. It hasn't adapted to the changes in our society.
A system of financial relief for widows who weren't expected to work has become
a system that seduces teenage girls into a life of poverty, that penalizes effort,
and that encourages irresponsibility.
Today, most American women work outside the home -- including most women who are
single parents. These women hold down a job or even two jobs. They pay their taxes.
They support their children. And under our welfare system they pay for welfare
mothers to stay at home.
For far too long, the welfare system has sent out the wrong messages. It's said
you don't have to work. You don't have to train to qualify for a job. You don't
even have to worry about the financial implications of having more children. After
all, somebody else will pay for all that.
Our Director of Social Services, Eloise Anderson, a woman who has dedicated her life
to helping women break out of welfare, says that we are treating women on welfare
as if they were little girls.
She's right. I would only add that we also need to worry about their little boys.
Jeff Holland, the Principal at Castori Elementary School in Sacramento, tells of
one striking example.
He once asked a ten-year-old student what his goals were for the future. The boy
said, "I want to grow up. I want to get a good education. And I want to graduate
from high school."
All that was encouraging. But then Principal Holland asked him what sort of job
he wanted after he finished his schooling. The boy said, "I thought I'd graduate
from high school and go on welfare. My mother's on welfare and my grandfather's
Principal Holland was shocked and deeply troubled, as an educator, that this promising
ten-year-old boy could conceive of welfare as a career.
We've got to be just as deeply concerned, and act on our concern, as citizens, as
taxpayers, as fathers and mothers, and simply as human beings who care about that
little boy and what becomes of him -- about what kind of adult he will become.
We've got to change a system that teaches generation after generation that welfare
is a perfectly acceptable career choice.
Any successful welfare reform needs to be based on a basic principle -- and that
is, when it comes to welfare reform, nothing works better than work itself.
As Eloise Anderson says, "We've taught people to believe that they're too good
for certain jobs. But what's wrong with working at McDonald's?" Some welfare
rights advocates describe certain entry-level jobs derisively as "McJobs."
Well, a McJob can lead to McManagement -- and maybe even to McOwnership. A life
on welfare doesn't. It can't. A life without work -- without the dignity of doing
something useful each day -- can never produce the satisfaction of being a breadwinner,
or the pride of accomplishment.
But it can produce the tragedy of children having children. And as Time magazine
observed in a recent cover story on crime, there is an ominous and all too frequent
pattern of 14-year-old mothers producing 14-year-old gang members and predators.
But it's not inevitable.
The fact is, there are two schools of thought on welfare: Some people believe that
welfare families just can't make it in the working world. They think that the best
we can do is to provide them with the highest cash grants and the best benefits the
taxpayers will bear.
Well, that's wrong. It's not the best we can do. Welfare families can become --
the vast majority of them want to become -- working families. Our welfare system
shouldn't shield recipients from the world of work. It should help them find work.
That's why one of our first reforms was to make work pay more than welfare. Now
that might sound like common sense to you -- but you'll have to remember that we're
dealing with government here . . .
Until we enacted our reforms, California had the second highest cash grant in the
nation, and the system actually penalized people for working.
In fact, the Legislature's fiscal analyst reported that under the old system, if
you made $1,200 a month working, you were actually better off on welfare!
Well, we've changed the system. We've cut cash grants more than 15 percent (though
we still have the fourth highest grants in the country). But at the same time, we've
increased the amount welfare
recipients can earn and keep from a regular job -- without losing their child care
and other benefits.
It used to be that recipients were penalized and lost a dollar for every dollar they
earned, giving them no incentive to work. But under our reforms, a family of three
that uses day care can earn $666 a
month before any reductions are made -- and thereafter they get to keep 33¢
on every dollar of excess earnings. We've replaced penalties with incentives to
And we're allowing welfare recipients to save more of their earnings, so that once
they get off welfare, a calamity like a broken refrigerator won't bust their bank
account and force them back on the system.
The vast majority of people on welfare want to earn the bread they put on the table.
They don't want their children to have as their inheritance a life on welfare.
I recently received a letter from a woman named Laura Marie Bagley, a single mother
and welfare recipient who had just found a good job thanks to our reforms. She told
me, "Thank you for realizing the problem wasn't that I didn't want to work,
because I do!"
I've seen what work can do. I remember one young woman, a single mother, in one
of our welfare-to-work programs called GAIN. She graduated from the program and
got an entry level job with a small wireless cable company in Riverside. Since then,
she's been promoted several times and is now the assistant to the head of the company.
She's happy. She loves her career. And all she needed was a chance.
And most important of all, we're not just benefiting her, we're benefiting her children.
They now have the example of a mother who gets up every morning and goes to work,
teaching them what it means to contribute to society. They know, unlike that ten-year-old
little boy who expected to graduate to a "career" of welfare, that they
should expect to work.
This young working mother says that now that she respects herself, her little girls
respect her, too. "When I was still on welfare," she says, "we really
didn't get along very well. But all that has changed, now that I'm working. And
her smile confirms it.
That's why our reforms focus on getting welfare recipients into the workforce --
where they want to be, where they belong, and where they can set a good example for
the next generation. And it's working.
In fact, our reforms have won praise up and down this state and across the nation.
From the L.A. Times, to the Sacramento Bee, to the New York Times, the headlines
have been the same. They've all headlined California's reforms as, and I quote,
"Welfare Reform That Works."
Many of our reforms have been adopted by the Clinton plan. But many others have
not. And some have been altered in a way that makes them pointless.
For instance, among our proposed reforms is a two-year time limit for able-bodied
individuals to receive welfare. I'd actually like to see that time limit cut shorter
-- to as little as six months. As ti is, 15% drop in level. But at a minimum, after
two years, the taxpayers have a right to expect that an able-bodied welfare recipient
will have a job.
Now, the Clinton plan also has a two-year limit. But after those two years, welfare
recipients who haven't found a job are offered government make-work jobs that only
perpetuate dependency in another form. In fact, the Heritage Foundation has released
a study that says the Clinton plan doesn't end welfare as we know it, it "extends
welfare as we know it."
I object to any plan that would make government America's growth industry.
The fact is, no welfare reform will achieve real change unless it encourages and
in fact requires responsibility and enterprise from its recipients.
And there is no reason why we shouldn't expect welfare recipients to face the same
financial responsibilities as any working family.
Working families live by strict budgets. They make sacrifices to be able to afford
to take care of their children. And working families don't get an automatic pay
raise when they decide to have another baby.
But until our reforms, welfare mothers did. We eliminated the automatic benefit
increases for women who have additional children on welfare, because taxpayers --
working to make ends meet themselves -- shouldn't have to foot that bill.
The majority of women on welfare had their first child as unmarried teenage moms.
Tragically, ironically, too many were misled by the false notion that pregnancy
and welfare would be their ticket to economic independence from their parents.
For too many, their youthful bad decision is instead a one-way ticket to years and
years of debilitating dependency -- the kind that can be terribly destructive of
hope and individual initiative.
We're working to remove these perverse incentives by proposing that unwed teen mothers
who go on welfare must live at home with their parents or guardian, unless they come
from an unfit or abusive home. And we insist that teen mothers return and finish
high school, to get the
education they need to get a job.
Without marketable skills, they have little hope of a job or a future other than
welfare. So if a teen mother goes back to school and maintains a C average, we add
$100 per report card period to her check. If she drops out and stays out, we deduct
$100 from her check.
With our reforms, we're providing more opportunity for welfare recipients. But we're
also demanding something in return: we're demanding responsibility.
We're cracking down on fraud. We've proposed a "One Strike and You're Off"
law to get welfare cheats off the system.
We've authorized L.A. County to be the first county in the nation to begin fingerprinting
applicants for welfare.
And we're cracking down on delinquent parents who fail to pay child support. They
have no right to expect taxpayers to pay for their children.
So although we've already tightened up on enforcement of child support, saving taxpayers
hundreds of millions of dollars, I'm asking the Legislature to send me a bill that
will toughen our child support laws even more.
We want to be very clear in our message to deadbeat parents: You shouldn't care
more about your car payments than your child. But if you lack the decency to send
love to your child, you'd better send money . . . or we'll hunt you down and dock
We're serious. If you're delinquent on your child support payments we will suspend
your driver's license, or even your professional license.
You can't casually father a child and cast the child and his mother onto the welfare
rolls for the taxpayers to support.
And as taxpayers, we have a right to expect that anything that's called "welfare
reform" will, in fact, save us money. Change that actually increases costs
can hardly be called reform.
Our welfare reforms in California have already saved taxpayers nearly $7 billion
-- yes, that's billion with a "b." President Clinton's proposals, on the
other hand, would cost taxpayers, more than $9
That's not welfare reform, that's welfare waste . . .
Unfortunately, our reforms -- the reforms that actually work -- are being jeopardized
by the forces of the status quo by so-called welfare rights advocates, who are using
liberal federal judges to try to
But we won't give up fighting for reform. The costs are too great for California
taxpayers, and the costs are much too great in lost human potential.
There's much more to do to complete our program of reform. There are still other
government roadblocks to clear out of the way. But we are making reform happen.
We're turning lives around. And, most important, we're showing a new generation
that welfare is not inevitable, that they can dream much bigger, better dreams --
and that if they will dare to escape from dependency to the world of work, they can
make their dreams come true.
We must finish the job.
We must transform welfare from a system that traps recipients in dependency to one
offering a stairway to self-sufficiency and self-respect.
And with the savings, we can move from warehousing failure to making much greater
investment in the enrichment of individual potential.
That's my vision for the next generation of Californians. And with your continued
support, it's a vision we will achieve.
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