Remarks on Signing the Family Support Act of 1988

 

October 13, 1988

 

I am pleased to sign into law today a major reform of our nation's welfare system, the Family Support Act. This bill, H.R. 1720, represents the culmination of more than 2 years of effort and responds to the call in my 1986 State of the Union Message for real welfare reform -- reform that will lead to lasting emancipation from welfare dependency.

 

It is fitting that the word ``family'' figures prominently in the title of this legislation. For too long the Federal Government, with the best of intentions, has usurped responsibilities that appropriately lie with parents. In so doing -- does anyone have a Stinger? [Laughter]

 

In so doing, it has reinforced dependency and separated welfare recipients from the mainstream of American society. The Family Support Act says to welfare parents, ``We expect of you what we expect of ourselves and our own loved ones: that you will do your share in taking responsibility for your life and for the lives of the children you bring into this world.''

 

Well, the Family Support Act focuses on the two primary areas in which individuals must assume this responsibility. First, the legislation improves our system for securing support from absent parents. Second, it creates a new emphasis on the importance of work for individuals in the welfare system.

 

Under this bill, one parent in a two-parent welfare family will be required to work in the public or private sector for at least 16 hours a week as a condition of receiving benefits. This important work requirement applies to families that come onto the welfare rolls as a result of the unemployment of the principal wage earner. It recognizes the need for a family's breadwinner to maintain the habits, skills, and pride achieved through work. This work requirement also allows us to expand coverage for two-parent families to all States without dangerously increasing welfare dependency. A key part of this bill is to make at least one of the parents in a welfare family participate in meaningful work while still getting a needed cash support.

 

Single-parent families also share in the message of hope underlying this bill. They, too, will know that there is an alternative to a life on welfare. To ensure that they get a better start in life, young parents who have not completed high school will be required to stay in or return to school to complete the basic education so necessary to a productive life. Other parents will be offered a broad range of education, employment, and training activities designed to lead to work.

 

To provide new employment opportunities to welfare recipients, States will be entitled to receive $6.8 billion over the next 7 years. They also will receive the funding necessary to provide child care and Medicaid benefits. This financial assistance represents a significant and generous national commitment to enhancing the self-sufficiency of welfare recipients. To ensure that meaningful numbers of recipients actually do benefit from welfare reform, each State must be required to involve increasing percentages of welfare families to participate in employment and training activities over time.

 

The Family Support Act also contains significant reforms in our nation's child-support enforcement system. These reforms are designed to ensure that parents who do not live with their children nevertheless meet their responsibilities to them. To improve the adequacy of child-support awards, judges and other officials will be required to apply support guidelines developed by their States for setting award amounts. And to help ensure that the child-support awarded actually is paid, child-support payments will be automatically withheld from the responsible parent's paycheck.

 

Reflecting the concern we all share over the Federal budget deficit, the Family Support Act contains funding provisions to offset the increased new spending in the bill. The single largest source of the funding comes from a temporary extension of current authority for the Treasury to collect overdue debts owed the Federal Government by reducing Federal tax refunds of individuals not paying those debts on time.

 

In 1971, when I was Governor of California, we put into law a work-for-welfare requirement similar to the one in the bill before us today. It was called community work experience, and its purpose was to demonstrate to the disadvantaged how ennobling a job could be. And that lesson is as clear today as it was then, and the successes of many fine State programs like that one have made this landmark legislation possible.

 

As lead Governors on welfare reform for the National Governors' Association, Governors Castle and Clinton consistently presented the interests of the States in getting welfare reform enacted. And that interest has been manifested by many States carrying out their own welfare reform programs. Leaders in this effort are Governors Kean, Tommy Thompson, Moore, and Hunt, who have paved the way for this legislation through unique welfare-reform initiatives in their States. Legislators like Wisconsin's Susan Engeleiter were instrumental in achieving welfare reform and showing Congress how well it works.

 

Many Members of Congress share the credit for the responsible welfare-to-work and child-support enforcement reforms in the Family Support Act. In particular, Senators Moynihan, Armstrong, Dole, and Packwood, and Bentsen, and Representatives Rostenkowski, Hank Brown, Michel, Frenzel, and Downey played key roles in forging the consensus for this landmark legislation. They and the members of the administration who worked so diligently on this bill will be remembered for accomplishing what many have attempted, but no one has achieved in several decades: a meaningful redirection of our welfare system.

 

And I think it is time now for me to sign the bill. And I thank all of you, and God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 2:06 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to the noise from an airplane flying overhead. H.R. 1720, approved October 13, was assigned Public Law No. 100 - 485.