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President Signs Bill Ending Guaranteed Cash for the Poor

August 22, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sweeping aside six decades of social policy, President Clinton signed welfare legislation Thursday that ends guaranteed cash payments to the poor and demands work from recipients. The historic act divided Democrats on the eve of their Chicago convention.

Unusually subdued for a Rose Garden ceremony, the president called the measure ``far from perfect″ and vowed to prepare second-term proposals that would ease the sting to needy Americans.

``We’re going to take this historic chance to try to re-create the nation’s social bargain with the poor,″ the president declared.

Responsibility for the country’s neediest citizens, about 12.8 million people, now falls to the states in a law that turns over money and power once held in Washington’s grip.

It requires a lifetime benefit limit of five years, stringent requirements that welfare recipients find work within two years and cuts in food stamps and aid to immigrants and disabled children.

The law will save federal taxpayers about $55 billion over six years, according to government estimates.

The transformation ends a federal guarantee to the poor that has existed since the New Deal days of President Franklin Roosevelt and jealously guarded by generations of Democratic politicians.

Clinton, who promised during the 1992 campaign to ``end welfare as we know it,″ had vetoed two previous Republican welfare plans.

``We can change what is wrong,″ Clinton said. ``We should not have passed this historic opportunity to do what is right.″

Presidential rival Bob Dole, who lobbied behind the scenes to keep the bill from going to Clinton’s desk for election-season approval, quickly accused the White House of stealing Republican thunder.

``He’s done everything but change parties,″ groused Dole.

For the third day in a row, Clinton marshaled the power of incumbency to sign popular bills passed by a Republican Congress. He approved health care legislation Wednesday and a minimum wage increase Tuesday.

Standing next to three former welfare recipients, Clinton said, ``Today, we are ending welfare as we know it, but I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for what it began: a new day that offers hope, honors responsibility.″

One of the former recipients, Lillie Harden, 42, of Little Rock, Ark., called the president ``the man who started my success and the beginning of my children’s future.″

Clinton alluded to a package of proposals he will unveil next week to create jobs in high-poverty areas or reward companies that hire welfare recipients. And aides said he wants the Justice Department to determine whether he can grant a grace period for legal immigrants who will lose benefits.

Clinton’s goal is to appease liberal members of his party, including White House aides and Cabinet members, who fought against the bill.

``Shame! Shame! Shame!″ chanted more than 200 people in a picket line outside the White House organized by the National Organization for Women.

They said the new law would thrust 1 million children into poverty.

``This fall, we will be voting for the lesser of two evils,″ said NOW president Patricia Ireland. ``Many of us will hold our noses and vote for President Clinton, but others of us will not _ we’ll be discouraged voters who will simply stay home.″

The Rev. Jesse Jackson warned this week that there will be tension at the Democratic National Convention. ``The timing of this is not good,″ he said.

Democratic congressional leaders, many of whom opposed the bill, stayed away from the Rose Garden.

Even Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund and a longtime friend of Clinton, called the bill signing ``a moment of shame.″

Senior White House advisers are steadying themselves for a backlash at the convention. Their argument is pragmatic: Only a second Clinton term can fix the bill’s problems.

He has already angered some Republicans by granting Hawaii, Minnesota and the District of Columbia waivers to delay the impact of the bill. Dole called them signs that Clinton ``is already undermining this welfare reform bill.″

Starting Oct. 1, states can apply for federal block grants based on previous welfare spending.

The core of welfare, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, will be dismantled, the money disbursed to states. The two-year limit for recipients comes with limited hardship exemptions.

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