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Clinton Signs Welfare Overhaul, Ends ‘Welfare as We Know It’

August 22, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton put his signature today on a historic overhaul of America’s welfare system. He promised the legislation will ``recreate the nation’s social bargain with the poor″ by compelling welfare recipients to go to work.

In his third public White House ceremony this week, Clinton signed into law a new state-run network of aid, ending six decades of guaranteed federal cash assistance to the poor.

``From now on, our nation’s answer to this great social challenge will no longer be a never-ending cycle of welfare,″ Clinton said. ``Today, we are taking a historic chance to make welfare what it was meant to be: a second chance, not a way of life.″

Clinton, who promised in his 1992 campaign to ``end welfare as we know it,″ made new promises to create the jobs needed for the controversial new system to succeed. He also pledged to work on changing some provisions decried by key Democratic supporters.

``Congress gave us a new reality. Now we have to fill in the blanks,″ Clinton said. ``We’re going to take this historic chance to try to recreate the nation’s social bargain with the poor.″

Today’s White House Rose Garden ceremony is the president’s third effort in as many days to take the headlines away from Republican rival Bob Dole by giving a dramatic send-off to high-profile legislation. Earlier in the week, he signed bills boosting the minimum wage and broadening health insurance coverage.

Dole’s campaign accused Clinton of both abandoning his fellow Democrats on welfare and undermining the newly enacted reforms with a handful of last-minute waivers to a few states.

``By selling out his own party, Bill Clinton is proving that he is ideologically adrift,″ said Dole campaign spokeswoman Christina Martin. ``While Bob Dole and the Republicans lit the flame of welfare reform, Bill Clinton has already begun to signal his intention to snuff out today’s promising start.″

Clinton was joined today by three women who were former welfare recipients, including Lillie Harden of Little Rock, Ark. The president routinely quotes her as saying the best thing about moving from welfare to work was that her son, when asked what his mother did for a living, could give an answer.

``I have never forgotten that,″ Clinton said, telling her, ``I thank you for the power of your example.″

The welfare transformation ends a federal guarantee to the poor that has existed since the New Deal days of President Franklin Roosevelt. It was denounced by many Clinton allies.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, called Clinton’s action a ``moment of shame ... the biggest betrayal of children and the poor.″

Her organization was among several that took part in a demonstration today in a park across the street from the White House.

The new welfare law is also opposed by Catholic bishops and urban groups. But it is expected to appeal to a broad range of moderate to conservative voters.

Clinton promised to try to work with Congress on making more palatable changes to the law, saying that in signing the bill he had effectively removed it as a political issue this election season.

``The two parties can no longer attack each other over it,″ Clinton said. ``This is not the end of welfare reform. It is the beginning. And we all have to take responsibility.

``If it doesn’t work now, it is everybody’s fault, mine, yours and everybody’s. It is no longer the fault of a system.″

White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta is heading an administration task force to make sure the welfare overhaul succeeds, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said today. And he said Clinton understands that if he wins re-election, the work of making the welfare change successful ``would fall on his shoulders.″

``That would require a very strong effort at implementing the act, at making sure that as welfare dependents make the transition to work, the work is there,″ McCurry said.

Clinton is considering a package of proposals intended to ease the burden on welfare recipients. It includes a possible tax break for companies that hire people off welfare rolls and a series of economic development ideas aimed at areas with large shares of welfare recipients.

He also has asked the Justice Department to determine whether he can grant a grace period for legal immigrants who will lose benefits under the bill, officials said today.

The proposals will be unveiled next week at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as part of Clinton’s list of initiatives and goals for a second White House term.

Clinton twice vetoed Republican welfare proposals, denouncing them as ``extremist″ plans that would hurt children.

But he agreed to sign the third version, even though it contained provisions he opposed, including deep cuts in child nutrition programs and tough restrictions on granting welfare to legal aliens and their families.

Clinton vows to work to repeal these provisions if he wins a second term.

The new law ends the open-ended guarantee of aid to the poor, saving an estimated $54 billion over six years.

It sets a lifetime limit of five years of welfare for each family. It requires all able-bodied adults to work after two years of welfare checks, but has a hardship escape hatch for up to 20 percent of recipients.

Under its terms, the states would take over management responsibilities, receiving federal block grants to run welfare programs as well as authority to set most of the rules.

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