April 14, 1999
Next Steps In Welfare Reform, continued
Featured Speaker: The Hon. Tommy Thompson
LARRY MONE: The Manhattan Institute is delighted to have sponsored today's conference. The Institute has had a long commitment to reforming the American welfare system, and we have certainly come a long way since the late 1970s and early 80s when it was almost taboo to raise the subject of welfare reform in polite company.
Now our job is to focus on ways to build on the gains achieved since the passage of The Welfare Reform Act. We view it as part of an overall effort to assure that conditions continue to improve in the nation's cities.
Now it is my very great pleasure to introduce our featured speaker, someone whose name is synonymous with welfare reform. As Governor, he officially ended welfare in Wisconsin in 1996 by signing into law his landmark Wisconsin Works, or W2, program, replacing the entitlement system with one that requires those who receive state assistance to work.
He has also implemented a number of other measures on the cutting edge of reform that have contributed to a reduction of more than 90 percent in the state's welfare rolls. “Learnfare” reduces benefits to families that do not send their children to school. The family cap limits aid to women who have had more children while on welfare. Work Not Welfare was the first state program in the nation to require aid recipients to work and placed a limit on how long they could receive benefits.
As a result of these and other overhauls he has gained a national reputation as both a pioneer and an innovator. During his 12-year tenure as Governor, he has made a mark as a leader in a number of other areas as well. These include initiating the first parental choice program in the country, toughening the juvenile criminal code, creating more than 640,000 jobs, and keeping Wisconsin's unemployment rate well below the national average.
It's a remarkable track record that he continues to add to. He is unquestionably one of the most influential state leaders in the country and we're very pleased he could be with us today. Please join me in welcoming Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin.
Gov. TOMMY THOMPSON: I have had the pleasure to speak to the Manhattan Institute in the past, and I always look forward to it. I certainly have enjoyed the tremendous work, Larry, that you and your organization have done. You should be complimented for everything that you've done.
Larry's always working hard and he's always looking diligently for new ideas as well as approaches to complex social problems. Anyway, that's what Lawrence Mead, my other wonderful friend in this organization, told me. So one weekend Larry packed his bags and he drove to a philosophical retreat in upstate New York. The retreat was held in the north woods of New York State, and Larry had to rough it by camping out. And he talked with a group that night about everything. The state of humanity, welfare reform, the role of government, and what we can do as a society to improve the quality of life for all people.
After the campfire went out he crawled into a sleeping bag, but in the middle of the night, both Larry and one of the philosophers woke up. Larry said he looked up into the sky and he asked the philosopher, “Tell me what you see”. The philosopher said, “I see millions of stars”. And Larry said, “What does that tell you?” He said, “Astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. We are probably not alone. And philosophically, it tells me we are but one community, and that we must always strive towards a united effort of working together for the common good.”
The philosopher then turned and asked Larry, “What does it tell you?” “Well,” Larry said, “Common sense tells me that somebody stole our tent.”
I come from Elroy, a very small community in central of Wisconsin, with a population of 1,500. I always tell people, Elroy is a very poor rural area and it's so small that you can call somebody and get a wrong number and still talk for a half an hour. That's how small my hometown is. And it's very poor. I didn't know I was deprived until I grew up and went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison where they told me I had led a very deprived childhood, not having all the luxuries of living in an urban area.
But I always tell people about Elroy. Only two individuals in the whole city had any money, and they were not nice people. In fact, they were really bad people. And they were not in my political party so, as you can imagine, I didn't like them. But they had all the money in the city.
We then got this wonderful new minister to come in, Reverend Eloise, a real stem-winder, who came in and preached the gospel. Every week more people kept coming in to the church until the small little congregation couldn't fit in there anymore. Finally, Eloise wanted to go out and raise some money in the city because he wanted to build a bigger church. He went all over and couldn't raise any money and was very despondent about it.
Finally, one day one of the brothers died. The other brother came in and went in to see Reverend Eloise. He sat down with Eloise, and he said, “Eloise, I have a check here for you to use to build your church. And for this check all you have to do is to get up in front of the congregation tomorrow and tell everybody that my brother was a saint.”
Now this put Eloise in a real dilemma. But true to form, Eloise grabbed the check and ran down to the Bank of Elroy and deposited it. The next morning, wearing all his regalia, he got up in front of the congregation and said, “I want everybody in the congregation to know about this gentleman. This gentleman was a liar. He was a cheat. He was a no-good. He cheated on his wife. He abused his kids. He cheated his customers. But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
That's good old, common sense, Elroy knowledge. And that's what welfare reform, Elroy-style, or Wisconsin-style, is all about.
The Manhattan Institute has had a longstanding tradition of pursuing the same common sense approach to developing and encouraging public policies that help individuals realize their true potential.
As the Governor of the State of Wisconsin, I too relish the opportunity and challenge of devising innovative programs that empower people and improve the quality of life for our residents. I refer to Wisconsin as America's state because we are implementing some of the most visionary initiatives in the nation. We're shucking the status quo. We're tearing down the old and the outdated. We're building the bold and we're embracing the daring.
We've created a strong, burgeoning economy and at the same time we’ve been able to improve the quality of our environment considerably. We're revolutionizing health care. In fact, Hawaii and Wisconsin are the two states that have 93 percent of their people are covered by health insurance.
We're shaping the future of American education through landmark reforms like school choice. And in Milwaukee we just went through one of the most dramatic school board elections in the country. We passed a school choice initiative. The unions put up five candidates against five reform candidates that the Mayor of Milwaukee, who is a Democrat, and who I recruited and helped to raise money for. The national unions came in to fight us and they spent $500,000 on one school board election. And it was all to try and stop parents and children from having school choice.
The five candidates supported, endorsed and financed by the unions all lost -- and three of them were incumbents. The five challengers all won. Can you believe that? Now we're going to see dramatic changes in Milwaukee education.
Now parents can send their child either to a public school or private school, either sectarian or nonsectarian. We’ve got charter schools that are run by the city, by the university and by vocational schools. We also have a new technical school that kids can go to. Plus in their junior and senior years, students can go to vocational school or to the university and get credits toward an advanced degree, and use those same credits toward graduation from high school. No other city in America has that many choices.
I think urban education is going to change dramatically because of the Wisconsin/Milwaukee example. But nowhere in American public policy is the concept of empowering people with the tools to be active, participating members of American society more prevalent than in welfare reform.
In 1996, the Congress and the President granted states’ request to eliminate federally mandated welfare entitlement programs, and essentially to reform the system as they saw fit. I was visiting Congress the day the House of Representatives passed the TANF bill.. The wonderful thing was that both sides in the debate used Wisconsin as an example.
The proponents said we have to have welfare reform so that other states can do what Wisconsin is already doing with waivers. The opposition said we can't have welfare reform because not all states will be as compassionate as Wisconsin. They said that if we could trust all states to do the same things that Wisconsin is doing we would not be opposed to it. It was a wonderful situation and both sides used Wisconsin as an example.
Of course, President Clinton likes to take credit for welfare reform even though he vetoed it twice and only signed it before the election. So across the nation a new day has dawned in America. The states, America's true laboratories of democracy, have been empowered to break the devastating cycle of dependence and poverty that 60 years of welfare entitlements had wrought upon this country. The states are now shining examples of the power of devolution. And they are showing that welfare reform is working, and that it's more successful in helping the poor than the old entitlement programs such as AFDC. No state epitomizes the success of American welfare reform more than my own state of Wisconsin.
When I took office in 1986, Wisconsin was in terrible shape. Our economy was bad and unemployment was near eight percent. Jobs and companies were leaving the state. Poverty was at a record high. We even had a group of business people who used to put ads in The Wall Street Journal, telling other businesses not to move to Wisconsin because state government was so anti-business.
Jim Thompson, my cousin, who was the Governor of Illinois -- he's not my cousin, but he calls himself my cousin -- put up signs near the border between our states that said “When the taxes get too high please bring your business to Illinois.” He put up a big sign that really irritated a lot of people. It said, “When the last company leaves Wisconsin, please turn off the lights.”
I wanted to get even. After I was elected I wanted to show the people of Illinois that there had been a change in Wisconsin. They come up on weekends from Chicago and enjoy our lakes and our festivals and date our ladies. Then they go back to Chicago on Sunday night. So I decided to put up a big sign too that said: “Governor Thompson wants you to bring your business to Wisconsin.”
My big cousin Jim Thompson didn't see the humor in this. People were calling him, saying “Jim, why do you want us to take our business to Wisconsin?” He said, “It’s not me! It's that crazy Thompson up in Wisconsin.” So we established a new dialogue and businesses started coming back home.
At that time Wisconsin had more than 100,000 families on the welfare rolls. They used to put posters in the Greyhound Bus depot in Chicago that said, “Go to Wisconsin for $18.50 on a Greyhound bus ticket and you can increase your welfare allotment by at least $175 dollars a month.” Guess what happened? People came to Milwaukee and signed up for our welfare system.
So we had businesses leaving, jobs leaving, and people on welfare coming into Milwaukee. The system was broken. It was time for drastic change. When I took office I knew we had to change the AFDC program. It needed to be scrapped.
We wanted to change it because AFDC rewarded people for not working. It gave financial incentives for having more children and not getting married. And it offered no hope for a better way of life, or a way out of poverty. In short, AFDC was trapping people in poverty. It swept them into a small corner of our society. Our magnanimous government would send these people a check once a month and say, “Don't expect anything, here's your check.”
It was encouraging apathy. It was downgrading our most important resource, our human capital. We were telling people, “You're really not worth anything; we'll just send you a check. Stay home and do nothing. Don't work, have more children, don't get married.” It was a system that was just by definition a failure.
When I took office, I used to invite welfare mothers to the residence for lunch. We would tell the caseworkers accompanying them to go down into another room and have lunch. Jean would set them up and then the welfare mothers would sit around the dinner table and tell me their stories.
First they'd be very concerned. Why had they been invited to have lunch with the Governor? Why had a Republican invited them? They thought it was something sinister. But once they found out I came from humble circumstances and that I really wanted to help them, they’d open up and they'd tell me their life stories.
An hour-and-a-half later, these welfare mothers were telling me their hopes for the future. They wanted a better life, and they wanted hope and the opportunity to work. They wanted somebody to care. And they wanted somebody to get their husband or the father of their children to pay their child support. They gave me common sense ideas on how I could reform the system.
So we started implementing some of the things they suggested. We obtained waivers that allowed us to experiment. Incidentally, we're still the only state to have waivers signed by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Because I've been Governor for so long, I go clear back to President Reagan. I've been expecting to get promoted but I keep coming back here being Governor.
All this led, finally, to a complete elimination of AFDC and the welfare entitlement in September 1997. How that happened is an interesting story. The Democrats in the legislature were getting upset with me receiving so much press about the changes in welfare and the declining caseload. So they went into caucus one night and said, “Let's embarrass the Governor. Let's completely eliminate all welfare programs. And of course, he won’t do it. Nobody would be radical enough to eliminate all the welfare programs. And then we can tell everybody in the state that he really was not a champion of welfare reform.”
So they passed a bill to eliminate everything, thinking I was going to veto it. My Secretary of Health and Human Services at that time actually told me I had to veto it. The next morning the Secretary reported to me what had gone on in the session overnight, and he told me he had urged Republicans to vote against the bill because I was going to veto it. And I said, “No, I'm not. This is the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had. I said I can't wait to get it passed and I'll sign it into law.”
They passed it that night thinking I was going to veto it and I signed it into law. That’s how I had the opportunity to completely scrap AFDC in the state of Wisconsin. That was a mistake that they really haven't quite gotten quite over yet.
Then we were the first state to start a program that we called W2, and demand personal responsibility. People all over the country understand what W2 means, and that was our hope in picking the name. It means work, but the program also provides many kinds of help.
Today in Wisconsin you don't sign up for public assistance. You sign up for work. Everyone earns a paycheck, not a welfare check. In return, recipients get the most comprehensive package of services provided by any state in America: individualized counseling, child care, health care, food stamps, training, transportation, even personal loans, if necessary, to fix up their car if they need it to get to their job.
During our lunches, the welfare mothers said there are four things we need if you want us to go to work: They needed health care benefits for themselves and their children, because they were receiving that while on welfare. They needed childcare, so they would know their children we’re being taken care of while they were at work. They needed job training, because they lacked skills. And they needed help with transportation, in order to get to jobs in places like the suburbs. W2 provides all of those.
The strength, however, of W2 is its flexibility. We can adjust to meet the needs of each and every unique individual. It is the polar opposite of the “one-size-fits-all” mentality of Washington, D.C. and of the old AFDC system. W2 is working out better than any of us in the state and in the country thought possible. By any measure it is a dramatic improvement over AFDC.
Here are a few statistics. The number of people on our public assistance caseload has dropped from 100,000, when I became governor, to fewer than 9,000, a number recorded just this last month. Think about it. Only 9,000 families, out of 5.5 million people in Wisconsin, remain on cash public assistance.
When W2 began, our welfare caseload was 35,000. In just over a year it has dropped to below 9,000. And we know that those leaving are succeeding; the average wage for those leaving W2 is $7.42 an hour. That's more than $2 above the minimum wage. The compassion of W2 shines through in the economic and the social successes that these families, as well as the entire community, are seeing.
There was a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel pointing out that a lot of the bus drivers say, “It's interesting, we used to go into central Milwaukee and we never had any riders in the early hours. And now our buses are full. And we are seeing a lot of small businesses such as H & R Bloc coming to the central city to fill out the income taxes of people that are working.” It’s a tremendous change.
A family of three in Wisconsin on W2 makes an income 30 percent above the poverty line. On AFDC the same family had an income 30 percent below the line. Even at a minimum wage job, the family is 15 percent above poverty.
On top of that, a person who works in a minimum-wage job can apply for the national earned income tax credit. Wisconsin is one of the few states that has a state earned income tax credit. If you fit into all the categories, you can get almost an additional $5,000 more from the state and federal governments than you are entitled to receive if you are on AFDC. So it pays to work.
States now face numerous challenges. Each state faces similar, yet different, hurdles. Hence the need for each state to have control over its own destiny. The federal government remains one of the largest roadblocks keeping states from fully implementing their ideas.
Take what happened earlier this week, as an example. Washington released the new TANF regulations. The Welfare Reform Act was signed in August of 1996, and just now the federal government is releasing its regulations, nearly three years later. The lengthy wait firmly establishes Washington as an inhibitor, not an initiator, of reform.
I am pleased, however, that the Department of Health and Human Services did listen to the states. For the best ideas are those that are derived closest to the people. But the federal government should have listened with a much more attentive ear. Some of the new regulations are helpful, but others are not, especially for the states that have been at the forefront of reform and are now working on new ways to improve their programs.
Of the 9,000 families that we still have left on the welfare caseload, 80 percent are in Milwaukee County, two-thirds have an alcohol and drug problem, 80 percent are minorities, 50 percent do not have a high school education and 40 percent have never worked. We have the toughest cases left.
But the flexibility of W2 allows us to do individual counseling and set up an individual program for each family, including, child care, health care, and the kind of training each person needs. You have to have that flexibility to be able to move the hardest cases now from welfare assistance, cash assistance, into the workforce.
As I said, some of the federal regulations are helpful, but others are not. We have to be able to maintain flexibility. The new regulations have the potential, once again, to tie our hands. And they come just as the focus of reform is moving from the early stage, which involves getting people jobs, to the more complex stage, which includes helping former recipients keep their jobs and preventing them from returning to the public assistance rolls.
Think about it. W2 is a relatively young program. Even as advanced as welfare reform is in Wisconsin, W2 is just a little over a year old. Now think about states that are just getting out of the starting blocks. They have unique needs and specific problems to address. They are now working on attempting to develop programs that are designed to specifically meet those needs.
Then along comes the federal government with a “one size, fits all” mentality, as well as additional red tape and rules that may prohibit these states from being creative in their efforts. The federal government's role in welfare reform should be to market what is working best in other states. It should advertise what is working best to other states and allow them to copy the formula.
Governors do that the best. Every time I go to a meeting with other Governors I learn something new. Then I fit the idea to the conditions in Wisconsin. You take the best ideas and make them work in your state. That's what we need to do in welfare reform. Let the states devise effective strategies to move people from welfare to work.
Flexibility is really the cornerstone. It's the key. It's the driving force behind W2. And it's essential if states are to make welfare reform work. Flexibility has allowed Wisconsin to set a higher standard and create a model for the nation to follow. Having flexibility is essential as we move into the next stages of welfare reform.
Wisconsin is taking the next step. We're living up to our reputation as America's leading innovator by proposing a wide variety of new initiatives, using TANF dollars as well as state matching funds. This approach adheres, I believe, to the philosophy behind block grants. Take what's working, build upon it, and help people help themselves.
We're using $30 million to help those who entering the workforce to stay there and climb the economic ladder. Making sure people stay in the workforce is the biggest challenge we face. So we're using that money to help that mother who just started and has never worked before. The money will allow us to support her, counsel her, encourage her and show her that working is in her and her children’s best interests.
Our W2 agencies now will be able to work with participants for a full six months after they get a job to ensure they're on the road to self-sufficiency. They will also be able to check in with them on a regular basis thereafter.
We intend to place emphasis on helping W2 workers find quality care for their children while they work. We're going to expand the eligibility for childcare subsidies and provide childcare assistance for families with disabled children. A lot of welfare mothers would like to work, but they have a disabled child who they can’t leave in a regular childcare center. So we have started a program to set up new kinds of childcare for disabled children
We're even helping others stay on the job by creating get-well havens for sick children while their parents are at work. Obviously, it’s not possible to leave sick children at regular childcare centers because they might infect the other children. So we decided to set up havens where sick children can be left on a temporary basis and be cared for by nurses and so on. It's more expensive, but it helps the welfare mother continue to work, and it ensures that her child is being taken care of.
We're steering at-risk children away from a life of trouble through new partnerships with our communities to provide safer neighborhoods and homes. We're issuing new community grants for local initiatives designed to help bring fathers back into the lives of their children. Our research shows that welfare mothers and their children have far more chances for success if the fathers are brought back into the family unit.
We're also working with prisoners nearing release, counseling and encouraging them to move back in with their parents. There are other initiatives that the federal government says we shouldn't be undertaking. But we believe the holistic approach that we're using in Wisconsin will have a tremendous impact on that family unit. We're working with the prisoners, we're working with fathers, we're examining child support collections, and we’re-working on childcare.
We're also funding youth grants for after-school programs, and we're developing a statewide campaign to recruit more foster families for needy kids.
Finally, we're doing something that I am more excited about than anything else I've done in a long time. Studies have shown how important it is for the formation of a child’s brain that he get the love, the education and the other things he needs at a very early stage. And I'm talking about age one.
When I first took office, if anybody told me that I, a conservative from Elroy, would be spending money on early childhood development, I would have said they were crazy. But the more I've studied, the more convinced I have become that this is the most important thing we can do. We have to get to at-risk children as early as possible.
I’ve got to get the legislature to go along with this, and so far it’s not as passionate as I am. But our new Early Childhood Excellence initiative calls for building at least five high-tech early learning centers for at-risk children, ages zero to four. At least two are going to be located in central Milwaukee. We're going to build better Badger babies. Now doesn't that sound great? Better Badger babies. That's got a ring to it that connotes success.
These centers are going to expose kids to foreign languages, classical music, reading, computers and other technology. They will stimulate development in learning, and in loving. And more importantly, they will provide the early assistance necessary for low-income children and families to be able to lead a higher quality of life.
Imagine if these centers are successful. Imagine, if you start changing the direction of kids’ lives at the earliest possible stage, what they're going to be able to do in school. We’ll be able to stop the increase in the number of people we put in prison. We’ll be able to stop building prisons across America.
Our bold efforts are going to result in fewer mothers and families in need of government aid. Investing on the front end just makes a lot of common sense. But these are also the types of initiatives that may be threatened by the new TANF regulations, which prohibit the use of block grants for these purposes.
By drawing specific rules and regulations that dictate to the states what they can and cannot use the block grants for, the federal government is taking a huge step backwards. Such an approach acts as a disincentive to those who want to think outside the box. Who else is thinking about using TANF money for these early childhood quality centers? But it makes sense, doesn't it? I know you're not all going to agree with me, but I would at least like to have a few of you nod their approval.
The states need flexibility when developing programs not only to move people from welfare to work, but to keep them gainfully employed. By their very nature block grants are designed to be flexible. Yet Washington -- Disneyland East -- in its infinite wisdom, has issued new regulations. It is time for the federal government to realize that the national debate about whether to reform welfare is behind us, and that reformers like me have already convinced the nation we need to try something new.
In January of this year I had an interesting experience. State of the State addresses are opportunities for governors to get up and brag about how well they're doing. And we guard the privilege jealously, because it gives us a whole hour to tell our states and legislatures and anybody who'll listen what great people we are. I wanted to do something different this year, so I brought a welfare mother to help me give my address.
Her presence illustrated dramatic and the positive changes welfare reform and W2 have had on the lives of women and children. Her name is Michelle Crawford, and she is an African-American mother of three. She never finished high school. She hadn't worked many times before. She stood up in front of the legislature and said, "I thought I would always be on welfare. I was always down on myself, thinking I would never accomplish anything."
Michelle earned a promotion from a janitorial job at a factory to a job on the production line. She said, "You know, my father used to run a machine, and I always wanted to be a machine operator, but I never thought I could gain the skills to do it. This factory gave me an opportunity." It required her to study, to train and to be tested. And she succeeded.
She brought her three children with her. She pointed to them in the gallery and said, "I was so proud when I got the job. Now I tell my kids that this is what happens when you do your homework."
She went on to say, "My kids see a difference in me. They see their mother making it. W2 gave me the chance, and I feel good about myself." Then Michelle closed by pumping her fist. She pumped her fist in the air, and she told the audience, including employers in the state, "I ask others to take a chance on W2 workers. We won't let you down."
Everyone stood in awe of this woman of little education who was once tethered to a government check. She told that inspiring, passionate story of providing for her family in a way she never dreamt possible. Then she went on to say, "For the first time ever, I was able to take my kids into a store and buy them Christmas presents. And I loved it. I love spoiling them."
Now more than ever the states need the kind of flexibility that produced Michelle Crawford.
Government directly encouraged the dependency of the people who were once trapped on welfare. It now has a duty to show them how to regain membership in our economy and how to participate in our democracy. Another generation awaits the American Dream. We have the power to make that dream become a reality for those who remain on welfare. Thank you.
Mr. OLSEN: We have time for a few questions.
QUESTION: As you said, it is wonderful to hear a conservative like you talking so passionately about a program like childcare. I'm wondering if you fought some battles in your state with people who might be described as “social conservatives” over the issue of childcare, and what that means about whom should be working in a family.
Gov. THOMPSON: Yes, I've had many battles over childcare. My own philosophy was probably tilted toward social conservatism until I got into it, until I sat down with welfare mothers. Until I talked to people who want to work and to people on SSI. I started another great program, Pathways to Independence, which President Clinton is now trying to copy. But that’s fine.
It’s important for people to work. It's important to help people address the problems that prevent them from working. That's what we've done in Wisconsin. We identified the four impediments that I mentioned in my speech just by talking and studying and using common sense. If those problems are solved, the inhibitors that keep people from working are eliminated.
The next issue to address is early childcare. Most kids in an abusive situation will grow up to be abusive parents, because that's what they’ve experienced. So isn't it better to take them out of an abusive environment and give them the love and the attention they need?
A study compared the cells and synapses in the brains between a normal two-year-old, whose parents gave him love each day, and one who was abused. The abused child’s brain was similar to somebody with Alzheimer’s. It seems to me that it's better to take that child out of the abusive situation. It’s better to put him in childcare where he can be loved, trained, and learn social skills while interacting with other children. That child is going to be far better off than if he stayed in an abusive situation from morning to night. The results should be noticeable by the time he reaches kindergarten.
We have found that the number of child abuse cases has declined in Wisconsin – it’s down by 12 percent -- as welfare rolls have shrunk. Our supposition is that a mother returning from work is happy to see her children. If she is spending all day in a dark, lonely apartment, and the kids are getting on her nerves while she’s trying to watch her soap operas, she'll slap them.
We will give these kids much more hope if we can get them into daycare. That's why I’m going to try these early childhood daycare centers. Studies also suggest the time to learn languages is when you’re six. Don’t wait until you’re my age. You should really start at age one, two or three. And once you learn one foreign language, it's so much easier to learn another one.
So I came up with this idea. Let's start teaching Spanish at the age of one. And expose them to classical music. I don't know if it's going to work, but I would bet my next month's salary that it does. If I can get the program started, I think it's going to be a tremendous success.
QUESTION: Stanley Carlson-Thies, Center for Public Justice. I just want to follow-up on this zero to four better Badger Babies. Besides teaching them about classical music and possibly Spanish, raising kids has to do with values as well.
Gov. THOMPSON: Right.
QUESTION: Instead of having wonderful standardized centers, would you consider opening up the program to a number of competing childhood development centers which might draw on elements of faith and values.
Gov. THOMPSON: I think it should be opened up. If the legislature will go along, I want to take $10 million and allow organizations to submit proposals. I want too many rules and regulations bout how the centers operate. The only requirements are that two of them have to be in central Milwaukee, and I want people to set up the best early childhood centers ever.
I want them to think outside the box. We'll set up a peer review group to evaluate proposals. You’ve got a great concept. But I want your concept to be measured against others. I want to put the money up that will allow people to try something new, cutting edge.
You may win and that would be good. But I don't want to be too restrictive in what we ask for, and to say this is the way it's got to be because it comes from Tommy Thompson. I want members of the body politic to bid on these grants with the understanding that they have to set up a quality early childhood center incorporating some of these basic ideas. I would like to have a foreign language. I'd like to have classical music piped in. I want to make sure that those kids are embraced and loved for six or seven hours a day so that they can go home and say that they're loved.
QUESTION: I'm Phyllis Busansky, and I'm head of the welfare reform program in Florida. I have two questions. I totally agree with what you're saying about the new restrictions on TANF. How are these new restrictions going to impact some of the really great things you plan to do? And what do you intend to do about them?
Gov. THOMPSON: What I usually do. I fight them.
QUESTION: We'll help.
Gov. THOMPSON: What happens is that Washington thinks they're doing what’s right. But they have these rules that assume one size fits all. You may have a great program in your community, and you should have the flexibility to develop it. I want to start these early childhood learning centers, but I'm sure the Department of Health and Human Services is going to say I can't use the money that way.
I suspect the new regulations will especially hurt states that haven't done much yet in welfare reform. And now that they are ready to try something new, they're going to be restricted. We've been at this for so long that we will probably figure out a way to get around them.
QUESTION: It's very exciting to hear about all of your initiatives. I notice when you list the needs of former public assistance recipients, they're all what might be called external or structural limitations. I know some people talk as if welfare recipients’ problems are internal, such as a lack of self-confidence or other things. I'm wondering if you see those as barriers too.
Gov. THOMPSON: Absolutely. There's no typical welfare mother, but often they have been in an abusive marriage or brought children into the world without a husband. Do you realize that there's $35 billion dollars of uncollected child support money in this country? That's a sin. It's a tragedy. How many welfare mothers in America are on welfare because men don't have the courage to stay after they’ve fathered a child, and pay for and help raise that child?
We have to do something about it. What W2 does is take women in these situations by the hand. We have one case in which a welfare mother has such an inferiority complex she can't get up out of bed in the morning. So we have a caseworker knocking on her door in the morning, getting her up and taking her to her job. But we're slowly building her self-esteem. Of course, self-esteem increases with accomplishments.
Once she has learned that she can do a job and pay her bills, she's going to be a better person, and her confidence will start to build.
I enjoy speaking here. When I started I was scared to death. I was scared to appear at the Manhattan Institute and answer questions from a bunch of experts, but now I enjoy it.