THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 1, 1995
Remarks By The First Lady
To The Child Welfare League
MRS. CLINTON: -- Thank you, thank you all. Thank you so much,
David and John and all of you gathered here this evening on behalf ofthe
work that we are doing and will continue to do on behalf of children. I
am deeply honored to receive this award named for Natalie Heineman. Her
work with children and with the League inspires all of us to do more and
to reach further.
I'm also pleased that my friend, Elizabeth Glaser, received this
award last year. And as a tribute to her, I hope that as we go about our
work on behalf of children , we remember the sacrifice and commitment she
displayed, and draw strength from what she did on behalf of --
As some of you may know, the President is speaking tonight to a
gathering at the Nixon Center on the dangers of isolationism and nuclear
proliferation -- two issues critical to the future of our children and
children everywhere. And although he is not able to join us tonight in
celebration of the Child Welfare League, he wanted you to know that
children are on his mind and they will stay on his mind in the days and
months ahead. (Applause.)
For 75 years you and this League have given all kinds of
leadership to our nation, and our nation has relied on you for wisdom and
moral leadership. We have to continue to call on your leadership,
because we have to continue to devise ways to help protect our most
vulnerable children. Your leadership is so crucial because today the
youngest among us face new and greater burdens than ever before.
When David Lederman* testified in the House last month on welfare
reform, he talked about our obligation as a nation to keep all children
from harm. That single phrase, "to keep all children from harm," summed
up the moral imperative before us now. For decades, Americans have stood
out for their compassion for children. We have prided ourselves on the
high aspirations and expectations we have held for children. But today,
we find ourselves at a rare moment in history when we must decide as a
nation how much children really matter to us.
American children are in crisis. Twenty-three percent of our
children live in poverty, and millions go without essential services
every day. Too many children are bearing children of their own. Drugs,
violence and abuse continue to claim the futures and even the lives of
our young people before they reach adulthood.
Surely, as we search for solutions to such complex human
problems, we need a full and honest debate. Yet that discussion is not
taking place today. There is no real exchange of ideas. There is no
weighing of evidence. There is simply a full-scale assault on nearly
every program that helps the neediest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged
The President has described recent actions in Congress as a war
on the children of America. The war is taking many forms: cuts in
current funding, elimination of programs, withdrawal of guarantees and
block grants in the name of state flexibility. If the wrong side wins in
this war on children, fallout from this war will reach far beyond the $40
billion in cuts in children's programs over the next five years. Far
beyond Barney and Big Bird and school lunches; far beyond summer jobs and
aid for children with disabilities. What will be lost is our notion of
who we are as a people and what we stand for as a society. (Applause.)
Let's not be fooled by rhetoric about block grants and greater
flexibility and autonomy for the states. And let's remember that cutting
programs that help children is not going to significantly reduce the
deficit. The only people who will benefit from being the evisceration of
children's programs are families earning more than $200,000 a year who
will be eligible for a capital gains tax cut. In 57 short days, we have
learned that the Contract with America is indeed a financial arrangement,
one that assigns far more importance to the interest of the very wealthy
and the very powerful, than to the interests of the poor, the needy and
the weak. We do not need that sort of contract in America. (Applause.)
We need instead, a covenant, a sacred trust between government
and the American people, and among the American people themselves that
reflects our long-held belief that every citizen, rich or poor, urban or
rural, young or old, has the right and responsibility to rise as far as
their God-given talents and determination can take them, and to give
something back to their society in return. That is the underlying
principle of the President's New Covenant, which, as he said in his State
of the Union address, is actually grounded in some very old ideas. Those
old ideas have guided us for more than a century in our efforts to
protect children from harm.
Yet today, the foundation which we have built to promote work
over welfare and strengthen families is in jeopardy. Federal guarantees
of child care assistance for low-income families and those coming off
welfare, grants for foster care and adoption assistance, Medicaid
coverage, summer jobs for young people, heating fuel for the
disadvantaged and aid for poor children with disabilities are just a few
of the programs at risk.
As a friend of mine said recently, cutting $7 billion out of
child nutrition programs and $4 billion out foster care and adoption
programs is not so much a revolution as -- quote -- "a massacre of the
If Congress weakens these programs, it will represent a total reversal of
an historic commitment our nation has made to children.
Few Americans realize that the first federal effort at child care
came in 1863 when the government sponsored a nursery for mothers working
in Civil War hospitals. Few realize that food vouchers, an early version
of food stamps, were given to freed slaves after the Civil War. Few
realize that the first federal immunization program was launched at the
beginning of this century, or that Congress established a Children's
Bureau in 1909 to safeguard the well being of children. Aid for Families
With Dependent Children, called welfare, began in 1935 as a way to enable
mothers, many of them widows, to stay home with their children.
Children were protected by labor laws beginning in the 1930s.
Congress appropriated funds for emergency maternal and infant care in
1943. The National School Lunch Act was passed in 1946 after it became
evident that many inductees into our Armed Forces in World War II
suffered from poor nutrition as children.
Throughout much of our history, children's programs have received
broad bipartisan support because there is such compelling evidence that
early intervention saves money and lives, and reaffirms the values of
opportunity and responsibility that built America.
Senator Robert Taft, a conservative Republican leader in his era,
said in 1948 that the American economy was rich enough --and I quote --
"to prevent extreme hardship and maintain a minimum standard floor under
subsistence, education, medical care and housing to give to all a minimum
standard of decent living, and to all children a fair opportunity to get
a start in life."
Before now we would never have dreamed of counting cuts in
programs for children on a 100-day scorecard. Before now, we came
together as Americans to safeguard the rights of disabled, abused and
hungry children through WIC, Head Start, the Child Abuse Prevention Act
of 1974, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, and the
Children's Welfare and Adoption Assistance Act of 1980, passed under both
Republican and Democratic presidents. Each of these did more than throw
money at a problem. Each of these represented a moral commitment to
children that improved our country, gave voices to the voiceless,
strengthened us and protected children from harm.
Yet, today, poor children and families are viewed less as objects
of concern than as culprits for everything that is wrong in society.
Drugs, violence, illegitimacy and abuse are viewed as afflictions only of
the poor and, in turn, it is poor children and families who are singled
out for punishment.
My minister gave a sermon recently in which he related the story
in Leviticus about the ancient Israelites who annually placed all of
their miseries and sins on the head of a goat and then sent the goat off
into the wilderness. When the goat reached the wilderness, the tribe was
cleansed of all problems, all evils, all sins. This is an apt parable
for what is happening in America today. In today's society, the goat is
poor children and their parents. And somehow we think we can rid
ourselves of all our social problems by scapegoating children and exiling
them to a wilderness of greater poverty and hopelessness.
Some in Washington and around the country justify these extreme
budget cuts by saying, we have all these children's programs in place,
but things are only getting worse. Obviously, the programs don't make a
difference. Well, nobody ever conceived of government programs as a
panacea. We all know that services alone will not lift a child out of
poverty. A school lunch program can help a child's physical and
intellectual development, but it can't provide shelter. A nutrition
program for pregnant women can increase the likelihood of a healthy baby,
but it can't pay the rent.
To overcome poverty, children and families need the basic
necessities in life. They also need to be buffered by a strong economy.
As the National Council of Bishops stated in a pastoral letter in 1991
entitled "Putting Families First," many families are poor because of
economic forces beyond their control: recession, industrial
restructuring, erosion of real wages, unemployment and discrimination in
hiring and promotion.
That's why, as we search for a solution to today's real social
problems, we must avoid an unbalanced approach that both robs children of
services and fails to address the broad economic and social forces that
contribute to poverty in the first place. Meaningful deficit reduction,
the creation of nearly six million new jobs, investments in the skills
and training of our people -- these are structural changes that, as the
President has fought for and articulated, will help lift children and
families out of poverty over the long run.
To address our problems, parents and families must take
responsibility, too. They must provide the love and nurturing and
discipline their children need. They must be willing to make the
sacrifices that are necessary to create conditions within the family that
enable children to flourish. And, in some cases, young men and women
must postpone having children until they have the means to provide the
love, the support, and the responsible care. And in other cases, parents
with children should think harder and longer about divorce and, instead,
put their children's needs and interests first. And child support, as
the President made clear at the beginning of this week, has to be part of
what it means to be a decent, responsible parent.
In that same pastoral letter I just mentioned, the bishops also
wrote that the most important work on behalf of our children must be done
in our homes and our neighborhoods and our community organizations. No
government can love a child, and no policy can substitute for a family's
care. But at the same time, government can either support or undermine
families as they cope with the moral, social and economic stresses of
caring for children.
Both national policies and personal values must play a role. It
is time to end the false debate that pits national policies against
personal values. We need to support both if we expect to have healthy --
children. (Applause.) We know that what happens to poor children and
their families also has ripple effects throughout the rest of society.
We also know that many of the programs under attack are not aimed just at
poor families, because the safety net that was kept in place even during
the 1980s did provide services for many families who, themselves, were on
the brink of falling into poverty.
A few weeks ago I visited a federally-supported child care center
in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There was not a single parent I met who was not
working, going to college, taking courses to try to get a GED, or
actively involved in job training. Having access to that kind of child
care that they could count on enabled them to go forward to build a
In the weeks and months ahead, as Congress works on social
issues, the test of every policy and every budget decision should be
whether it helps children and strengthens families. I want you to know
that the White House and the Clinton administration will work with you to
ensure that our children are kept from further harm.
In the last 10 days, we have seen the response of the American
people as the specifics of budget proposals have been unveiled. People
know better. They often can put a face on all of the abstract rhetoric
about budgets and programs. They can see the children that I saw earlier
today in Arlington, Virginia, at a school where three-fifths of the
children in an affluent community are eligible for free or reduced-price
lunches. They can see the little girl, Ellen, who sat across from me, or
Zachary, who came up to ask about Socks, the cat. They know that when it
finally becomes a question as to whether we will support
abstract ideology or concrete personal lives in the faces and futures of
our children, that they will want our children protected.
And that is why we can, and we will, with your help, continue to
protect the children of America from harm. It will not be an easy
struggle, because, as I said earlier, there are powerful forces that
refuse to recognize the costs that will be borne by our entire society in
return for privileges for a few if we eradicate the progress that we have
made so far. But I'm confident that America will once again rise to this
challenge, and that our children will be given the future they deserve.
Thank you all very much.