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Bill Clinton on Welfare & Poverty

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


"We're in this together" better than "You're on your own"

[At the GOP Convention], we heard a lot of talk all about how the president and the Democrats don't really believe in free enterprise and individual initiative, how we want everybody to be dependent on the government, how bad we are for the economy. This Republican narrative, this alternative universe says that every one of us who amounts to anything, we're all completely self-made. One Democratic Party [chairman] used to say that every politician wants every voter to believe he was born in a log cabin he built himself. But, he then admitted, it ain't so.

We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that "We're all in this together" is a far better philosophy than "You're on your own."

Source: 2012 Democratic National Convention speech , Sep 5, 2012

Expand Home Affordable Refinance Programs to millions

Let people with government-guaranteed mortgages who aren't delinquent refinance their mortgages at the current low interest rate. This step would help the economy with the multi-year stimulus that doesn't cost the taxpayers anything. Fewer than one million people have taken advantage of the government's Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).
Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p.128-131 , Nov 8, 2011

Social & economic mobility depend on equalizing opportunity

Stagnant wages, relatively lower college graduation rates, and limited job growth have also hurt our international rankings in an area we think of as essential of America's character: social and economic mobility.

Canada, Sweden, and Norway rank higher than the US in terms of job mobility. In terms of income mobility, the chances of earning more than your parents are greater in Canada, Finland, Sweden and Norway than in the US.

It is heartening that people all over the world want to pursue their own version of the American Dream but troubling that others are doing a better job than we are of providing it to their people. The success of the nations doing better than we are is due to government policies that equalize opportunities and prepare their people to seize them.

In assessing the overall quality of a nation's infrastructure, the US ranks 24th out of 142 countries measured. The US spends only 1.7% of the GDP on infrastructure, compared with the 4% for Canada or 9% for China.

Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p.103-106 , Nov 8, 2011

American workers are working harder for less

In this decade, American workers have consistently given us rising productivity. They work harder and produce more. What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than one-fourth as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty, and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s. American families by the millions are struggling with soaring health care costs and declining coverage. I will never forget the parents of children with autism & other serious conditions who told me they couldn’t afford health care and couldn’t qualify their children for Medicaid unless they quit work and starved or got a divorce. Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of? What about th military families pushed to the breaking point by multiple deployments? What about the war on unions and unlimited favors for the well-connected? What about Katrina and cronyism? America can do better than that. And Barack Obama will do better than that!
Source: Speech at 2008 Democratic National Convention , Aug 26, 2008

1992: People who work hard & play by rules shouldn't be poor

Before Bill Clinton's compelling rhetoric was undermined by budget-balance fever, he effectively managed to connect broadly shared traditional values of personal initiatives with liberal forms of help. His phrase from the 1992 campaign, "People who work hard and play by the rules shouldn't be poor," perfectly captured both sides of the equation. Most Americans indeed think people should work hard and not chisel. And most Americans also think that a job should be sufficient to keep workers out of poverty. Only effective government policy can deliver on the latter promise.

Unlike Clinton, who faced severe ideological headwinds of antipathy to government, Obama takes office at a moment when the previous administration is disgraced and the ideology of letting speculative markets rule is discredited by financial catastrophe. For the first time in four decades, a principled progressive enjoys an ideological tailwind.

Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p.182-183 , Aug 25, 2008

OpEd: Welfare measured by rolls, not by situation of poor

Clinton's success in transforming the welfare system shows how a leader can sometimes lose by winning. Clinton's original plan was one part tough love and one part expanded resources. Able long-term welfare recipients would be compelled to work, but additional resources for job training, wage subsidy, and child care, as well as waivers in hardship cases, would make welfare reform an improvement on the lives of the poor, not just a cruel reduction in benefits. But the Republican majority in Congress was more interested in cutting the rolls. Clinton vetoed the proposed legislation twice before finally signing it based on only token improvements.

For Democrats as well as Republicans, the proof of success became the dramatic shrinkage of the welfare rolls, and not the more troubling question of how many of the poor were better or worse off. By embracing an essentially GOP version of welfare reform, Clinton reinforced conservative dogma that the welfare state was more of a problem than a solution.

Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p. 58-59 , Aug 25, 2008

Clinton Global Initiative: partnering donors with problems

Q: Third Clinton Global Initiative, what did you achieve?

A: Well, we had more commitments for more money than ever before, but also we had two new breakthroughs. We had more of our really interesting commitments involve larger and larger numbers of people working together, which is what I wanted to have. I wanted to bring people together, have them work together. The second thing is we have really democratized this now. It looks like we’re going to have over half million people following this over the Internet, myCommitment.org, to create a community of small givers.

Q: When you say money raised, our viewers, I think, would be interested in this. The money doesn’t go to you or to a foundation.

A: No, no, I don’t touch any of it.

Q: You broker people, in effect.

A: Yeah.

Q: You take someone with money, identify a problem and put them together in a partnership.

A: Yeah. Once in a while I go into one, if asked. I’m trying to get other people to help and work with each other.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series , Sep 30, 2007

Welfare reform succeeded because of focus on jobs

When I signed the Welfare Reform Act in 1996, requiring able-bodied people who could work to do so, there was legitimate concern that there would not be jobs available for them because they tended to be under-educated and to have less experience, and tha when the economy slowed down, as it inevitably would, they would be the first laid off. While there have been some problems, welfare reform has been largely successful. The welfare rolls have dropped nearly 60%, more than 7 million people, by the time I left office, and have continued to drop since. In 2000, the percentage of Americans on welfare reached its lowest point in four decades. During the economic downturn of 2001, many of those who came off the welfare rolls were able to stay in the workforce in part due to policies designed to help them succeed,

The success of welfare reform was due to more than better policies. There was also a conscious effort to expand the job market [by promoting the hiring of] new employees from the welfare ranks.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p.173-174 , Sep 4, 2007

Promote innovative ideas and "social entrepreneurs"

The world is full of people with innovative ideas who are willing to give their all to implementing them but don't have money to get started. These "social entrepreneurs" can change the lives of millions of people for the better if only they are helped to follow through on their ideas.

In recent years, more funding for social entrepreneurs has become available, principally from foundations established by wealthy individuals. Among the most important is the Omidyar Network, established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam.

Other foundations set up to fund social entrepreneurs include Echoing Green and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

One of the most promising examples of multifaceted social entrepreneurship I've witnessed in American is the Harlem Children's Zone, which helps parents, teachers, residents, and other interested parties create a safe learning environment for young people in a sixty-block area of central Harlem.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p.137-143 , Sep 4, 2007

Organize market to produce benefits from "public goods"

One of the most interesting things I've learned since leaving the presidency and entering the NGO and business worlds is how many markets for "public goods"--from lifesaving medications to clean energy products and energy-efficient practices--are disorganized and unnecessarily small. There are enormous opportunities for businesses to increase profits, and for NGOs to make contributors' money go further. By organizing and enlarging such markets. Though we may not think of it as giving in the usual sense, organizing and enlarging public goods markets are important ways of giving that can both benefit and involve millions of people in advancing good causes.
Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p.152 , Sep 4, 2007

If wealthiest 1% gave away 5% of income, we'd meet all goals

If the top earners simply give 5% of their income to meet the goals, the top .01% would give $9.2 billion; the top 1%, $12 billion. If the rest of the top 10% give 1% of their incomes to the cause, it would raise another $17.2 billion. The total would be nearly $70 billion, more than enough to meet 36% of the cost of the goals, with more than $20 billion left over to support our fellow citizens who are tackling big problems at home. Also, if giving by the wealthiest Americans even approached these levels I'm convinced it would spark an enormous outpouring of contributions from Americans of more modest means. Even if each gift is relatively small, millions of contributions from the other 90%, aided by the Internet, could equal or surpass the total giving by wealthy Americans.

The example of how much money we could give also applies to gifts of time, skills, things, reconciliation, and new beginnings. If we just all gave according to our ability, the positive impact would be staggering.

Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p.206 , Sep 4, 2007

Biblically-inspired social justice, especially serving poor

Clinton holds to an evangelical theology, affirms the doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed, and “believes the Bible to be an infallible message from God.” Clinton’s commitment then and today is to biblically inspired social justice. “He is especially committed to living out the 2,000 verses of Scripture which call upon us to respond to the needs of the poor,” says a pastor. “Both in the presidency and since leaving the presidency, the verses concerning serving the poor have guided his life.”
Source: God and Hillary Clinton, by Paul Kengor, p.173 , Jul 18, 2007

Reform attacked by Christian left; but genuine middle ground

The historic 1995 welfare reform initiative between Bill Clinton and the new Republican Congress sought to decentralize the way that welfare was delivered. To this day, this remains the most genuine overture by Bill or Hillary toward a truly middle groun initiative.

Marian Wright Edelman wrote to Bill: “Do you think the Old Testament prophets Isiah, Micah, & Amos--or Jesus Christ--would support such policies?” It was a display of moral arrogance by Edelman. Sure, Jesus wanted Christians to help the poor, as Christian Republicans and Democrats knew, but nowhere in the Gospel did the Messiah weigh in on whether he preferred centralizing or decentralizing Medicaid.

Bill Clinton signed the bill. In response, Edelman’s husband, Peter, resigned his post in the Department of Health and Human Services saying this was “the worst thing Bill Clinton had done.” Contrary to Edelman’s predictions, welfare-reform proved an enormous success, maybe the greatest domestic achievement of Clinton’s presidency.

Source: God and Hillary Clinton, by Paul Kengor, p.141-142 , Jul 18, 2007

Opened office in Harlem Empowerment Zone

On July 20, 2001, the former president Bill Clinton would establish offices on 125th Street, the nerve center of Harlem. His decision to do so had its roots in the creation in the early years of the Giuliani administration of the Harlem Empowerment Zone, which would lead to the controversial ridding of that neighborhood of its street vendors.
Source: Giuliani: Flawed or Flawless, by D. & G. Strober, p.156-157 , Jan 16, 2007

Make welfare pro-work and pro-family

Bill promised to "end welfare as we know it" and to make the program pro-work and pro-family.

At the time Bill took office America's welfare program, AFDC, received more than half of its funds from the federal government but was administered by the states, which contributed between 17% and 50% of the payments. Federal law required coverage of poor mothers and children, but the states set the monthly benefits. As a result, there were 50 different systems. The Republican plan provided minimal support to help people make the transition to work.

The Republicans passed a bill with strict limits on welfare, no supports for the transition to work, no benefits for legal immigrants, an end to federal oversight and accountability in how states spent federal welfare money. In short, the states would be free to determine what to offer in monthly payments, child care, food stamps & medical care or whether to offer them at all. After a vigorous debate in the White House, the President vetoed the bill.

Source: Living History, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, p.366-368 , Nov 1, 2003

Keep estate tax to encourage philanthropy

We should raise the $1 million ceiling on the estate tax to $5 million per couple, but we should not get rid of it. Another reason why the estate tax should not be abolished: it would drastically undermine America's tradition of well-endowed philanthropies, which have contributed so much to the welfare of the nation. That's why some of the richest people in the world are opposed to repealing the estate tax, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Source: Crossroads, by Andrew Cuomo, p. 39-41 , Oct 14, 2003

Expanded the EITC from $15.9 to $21.2 billion

Two of his campaign proposals, both distinctively New Democrat ideas, were sacrosanct. He insisted upon the establishment of AmeriCorps. And, more importantly, he insisted on a massive expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit--another applause line from the campaign: "No one should have to work forty hours a week and raise a family in poverty."

The decision to grant a significant increase in the EITC was a crucial, if little noticed, moment in the presidency. There was NO political benefit to expandin the Earned Income Tax Credit. No one would notice if the prospective recipients--the legions of waitresses, hospital orderlies, and janitors--still toiled for wages that left them below the poverty line; the EITC subsidy was too cumbersome a concept for most journalists to even bother to understand, much less attempt to describe.

Clinton expanded the EITC from $15.9 to $21.2 billion in the first year, which, in effect, cut taxes for 15 million families.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 55-56 , Feb 11, 2003

Create "New Markets" in impoverished areas

Toward the end of Clinton's time in office, the President made a tour of impoverished areas, hoping to encourage businesses to create "New Markets" in poor communities. In the Mississippi Delta, I watched a blithely multiracial crowd await the President's speech.

Clinton did not create this new atmosphere. Indeed, his formal efforts to "do" something about race--his second-term "commission" to study the problem, for example--and more than that, his appreciation of African-Americans--created the subtext for a new American tolerance, especially among young people, who really did seem to understand, as the twentieth century ended, that the nation's racial diversity was not only a significant advantage in the global marketplace but also a source of social and cultural creativity at home.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 83 , Feb 11, 2003

Welfare reform significantly reduced unmarried child-raising

A study published in 2001 by a Clinton critic who had predicted social disaster and then quit the Clinton administration in 1995--showed a remarkable effect of welfare reform: The number of children living with single parents dropped by 8% in the five years after the bill was passed. "The percentage of all black children raised by married parents jumped from 34.8% to 38.9% during the period studied, a 10% increase in just five years."

It seemed that Clinton had not only made work pay, but he'd also removed the disincentive to marriage that had been an unintended consequence of the old welfare system, which only visited benefits upon single mothers. So there was an answer to the "culture of poverty" arguments long posed by conservatives--but it was an answer that combined conservative values ("responsibility") with liberal spending ("opportunity"). This was, perhaps, the purest demonstration of the substance and possibilities of the Third Way.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.155 , Feb 11, 2003

Help Low-income Fathers Support their Children

The Administration’s budget proposes $255 million for the first year of a new “Fathers Work/Families Win” initiative to promote responsible fatherhood and support working families, critical next steps in reforming welfare and reducing child poverty. These new competitive grants will be awarded to business-led local and state workforce investment boards who work in partnership with community and faith-based organizations, and agencies administering child support, TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid, thereby connecting low-income fathers and working families to the life-long learning and employment services created under the Workforce Investment Act and delivered through one-stop career centers.

$125 million for new “Fathers Work” grants will help approximately 40,000 low-income non-custodial parents (mainly fathers) work, pay child support, and reconnect with their children.

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Sep 6, 2000

End welfare as we know it

On August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, fulfilling his longtime commitment to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ As the President said upon signing, “... this legislation provides an historic opportunity to end welfare as we know it and transform our broken welfare system by promoting the fundamental values of work, responsibility, and family.”

The law contains strong work requirements, performance bonuses to reward states for moving welfare recipients into jobs and reducing illegitimacy, state maintenance of effort requirements, comprehensive child support enforcement, and supports for families moving from welfare to work -- including increased funding for child care. In May 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services released guidance on how states and local governments can use welfare block grant funds to help families move from welfare to work.

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Sep 6, 2000

The "E" in EITC is about earning: so reduce marriage penalty

We must also make investments that reward work and support families. Nothing does that better than the earned-income tax credit, the EITC. The "E" in the EITC is about earning, working, taking responsibility, and being rewarded for it. In my very first address to you, I asked Congress to greatly expand this credit, and you did. As a result, in 1998 alone, the EITC helped more than 4.3 million Americans work their way out of poverty toward the middle class. That's double the number in 1993.

Tonight I propose another major expansion of the EITC: to reduce the marriage penalty, to make sure it rewards marriage as it rewards work, and also to expand the tax credit for families that have more than two children. It punishes people with more than two children today. Our proposal would allow families with three or more children to get up to $1,100 more in tax relief. These are working families; their children should not be in poverty.

Source: Pres. Clinton's 2000 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 27, 2000

Address Homelessness via federal, state, & county govt

President Clinton and Vice President Gore have been committed to helping homeless Americans become more self-sufficient. HUD alone has invested nearly $5 billion in programs to help homeless people since 1993 -- more than three times the investment of the previous Administration. The Continuum of Care approach has helped more than 300,000 homeless people get housing and jobs to become self-sufficient. The Continuum of Care made clear that homelessness was more than simply a housing problem, and focused attention on long-term solutions which included housing as well as job training, drug treatment, mental health services, and domestic violence counseling. The Administration is also proposing to expand access to mainstream health, social services, and employment programs for which the homeless may be eligible through a new $10 million program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, States, and large counties.
Source: HUD Statement before House Veteran’s Affairs Subcommittee , Jun 24, 1999

Transfer 10% of federal housing to churches, for homeless

Promise: To transfer 10% of all federal housing to churches and other nonprofit community groups for the homeless.

Status: The Administration supports the McKinney program which provides nonprofit homeless organizations the opportunity to have first bid at all surplus federal property. Legislation has been proposed to give local nonprofit organizations a direct role in determining the use of HUD homeless resources.

Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p.139 , Aug 1, 1996

Welfare-to-work, instead of welfare as a way of life

For 15 years, going back to my service as governor of Arkansas, I have worked to reform welfare, to make it a second chance and not a way of life. As a result, Arkansas became a national leader in reforming a wide range of family and welfare programs. I helped write the 1988 federal welfare reform bill.

[As president], we cut welfare red-tape and approved welfare-to-work programs for 40 states. And it has worked. There are 1.3 million fewer people on welfare today than there were when I took office. Food stamp rolls are down by more than 2 million.

    In 1991, I said we needed to end welfare as we know it. Now, with the passage of new welfare reform legislation, we have an opportunity to establish a new system based on the following principles:
  1. It should be about moving people from welfare to work.
  2. It should impose time limits of welfare benefits.
  3. It should give people the child care and health care assistance they need to move from welfare to work without hurting their children.
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 66-68 , Jan 1, 1996

Welfare reform includes states, communities, & businesses

[My proposed welfare reform law] gives states and communities the chance to move people from dependence to independence and greater dignity. But the real work is still to be done. States and communities have to make sure that jobs and child care are there. They can use money that used to go to welfare checks to pay for community service jobs or to give employers wage supplements for several months to encourage them to hire welfare recipients. They should also provide education and training when appropriate and must take care of those who, through no fault of their own, cannot find or do work. These are important new responsibilities not just for welfare recipients, but for states, communities, and businesses. But is welfare reform is to work, all must shoulder their responsibilities.

This reform is just a beginning. We must implement this legislation in a way that truly moves people from welfare to work, and that is good for children. We will be refining this reform for some time to come.

Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 69-70 , Jan 1, 1996

Finish welfare reform by moving able recipients into jobs.

Clinton adopted the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade":

Help Working Families Lift Themselves from Poverty
In the 1990s, Americans resolved to end welfare dependency and forge a new social compact on the basis of work and reciprocal responsibility. The results so far are encouraging: The welfare rolls have been cut by more than half since 1992 without the social calamities predicted by defenders of the old welfare entitlement. People are more likely than ever to leave welfare for work, and even those still on welfare are four times more likely to be working. But the job of welfare reform will not be done until we help all who can

work to find and keep jobs -- including absent fathers who must be held responsible for supporting their children.

In the next decade, progressives should embrace an even more ambitious social goal -- helping every working family lift itself from poverty. Our new social compact must reinforce work, responsibility, and family. By expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing the supply of affordable child care, reforming tax policies that hurt working families, making sure absent parents live up to their financial obligations, promoting access to home ownership and other wealth-building assets, and refocusing other social policies on the new goal of rewarding work, we can create a new progressive guarantee: No American family with a full-time worker will live in poverty.

Source: The Hyde Park Declaration 00-DLC3 on Aug 1, 2000

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Other past presidents on Welfare & Poverty: Bill Clinton on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole
V.P.Walter Mondale

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Page last updated: Jul 05, 2014