'Welfare must be temporary'

February 11, 1996
Web posted at: 12 a.m. EST

CNN transcript of GOP radio address

Featured speaker: Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson

THOMPSON: Good morning. I'm Tommy Thompson, governor of the great state of Wisconsin. This week, governors gathered in Washington with the goal of reaching an agreement to reform the welfare system and revamp the Medicaid program, which provides health care to low-income Americans.

It was an historically productive meeting. The governors, Republicans and Democrats, unanimously agreed to overhaul the welfare system, to restore the dignity of work, and give hope and opportunity to thousands of families.

We unanimously agreed that welfare must be temporary and linked to work and that both parents must support their children. We unanimously agreed that the states are better equipped than Congress to design better programs that address local needs.

The governors supported a five-year limit on welfare benefits -- welfare as a safety net, not a way of live. We agreed that welfare recipients should be required to work, and we agreed to provide adequate child care so that families on welfare can work with the security of knowing their children are properly cared for.

And we agreed that states should have the option to withhold additional payments to women who have children while on welfare. Governors around the nation have already shown that we can create innovative programs that work.

In Wisconsin, for example, we've reduced our welfare caseloads by 33 percent, putting 33,000 more families on the path towards achieving the American dream. But the federal rules have made it difficult, if not impossible, to do much more than tinker around the edges.

Returning responsibility to the states will give me and 49 other governors the flexibility we need to truly end welfare by focusing on work and self-sufficiency.

The governors also reached unanimous agreement this week on restructuring Medicaid, the nation's health insurance program for the poor. Medicaid spending has been growing between 10 and 20 percent a year for the last decade, and every growing Washington bureaucracy has created more and more regulations and took away the ability of the states to control the costs.

In most states today, Medicaid consumes 20 percent or more of the state budget. As it keeps growing, it squeezes out state spending on education and safety, regardless of the priorities of the state taxpayers. And yet, in too many areas of the nation, Medicaid provides substandard care.

Even as spending skyrockets, quality declines as doctors and providers can no longer afford the bureaucracy of the system. This week, the governors stepped up to the challenge of redesigning the Medicaid program -- to spend more effectively and make sure quality care is available to those who need it.

We recommended continuing the federal guarantee of basic health care to the nation's most vulnerable populations. We agreed to a list of services that every state will provide. We are not willing to leave any vulnerable low-income person without care.

Where we recommended flexibility is in the delivery system. Today, some states like Wisconsin and Michigan and many others spend countless hours filing paperwork in Washington in order to get permission to get managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries.

But the hurdles have been too high and too costly for many states. Managed care provides a real opportunity for states to provide Medicaid recipients with better care at lower costs, and it will allow us to offer care to more families.

Low-income mothers and children are the least likely now to get regular check-ups and receive preventive care, and they are least likely to have a family doctor that they can call on if in need. As a result, too many problems go untreated until they result in costly emergency room visits.

Enrolling Medicaid families in managed care increases access to primary care, preventing the need for costly treatments and the pain and suffering of allowing an illness to go untreated for too long. Relief from volumes of one-size-fits-all rules and regulations will mean that state governments can spend their time designing cost-effective programs and caring for people, rather than spending their time filling out Washington paperwork.

Governors are elected to serve the people of our states, and we want the ability to do just that, unencumbered by Washington's so-called wisdom or Washington's one-size-fits-all mentality. By unanimously reaching an agreement on these very tough issues, the governors hope to rekindle action in Washington in order to balance the budget and reform the welfare system.

We have already met with House and Senate Democrats, as well as Republicans, to spur them to action. The governors put their partisan differences aside, and they worked for an agreement because we know that Medicaid reform and welfare reform cannot wait.

And I'd like to thank the group of six governors that joined me in forging this historic agreement. Every day that goes by wastes your tax dollars and wreaks more havoc on low-income families, trapping them in dependency.

Speaker Gingrich and Senator Dole understand the urgent need for reform and have welcomed the governors' recommendations as the basis of progress. I urge President Clinton, as a former governor, to listen to his former colleagues as well.

The current system destroys families and neglects children. It undermines opportunity, and it fails the test of common sense. The governors are prepared to shoulder the load of transforming these failed systems, but federal law forbids us from developing real common sense solutions.

Governors want to be the engines of change. I can only ask that the president stand with Congress and the governors of both parties and give us the freedom to do our jobs.

Thank you, and have a great weekend.



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