Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
WorkFirst Launch, Spokane
July 31, 1997
August 1 is an historic day in Washington.
Tomorrow we begin a new program that replaces a system of dependence with a system that focuses on helping people achieve economic independence.
This will be a better deal for the poor, and a better deal for taxpayers.
We are ending a system that over the last 60 years has lost its vision of providing a helpful hand, and instead fostered a system that discouraged work.
Starting tomorrow, when a person walks into a state office and asks for help, the first priority will be to help that person find a job.
If the person can't find one, we'll move quickly to identify the barriers to their employment, and start knocking those barriers down.
If basic work skills are an issue, a variety of community organizations will help people acquire them.
If short-term training is necessary, our community and technical colleges will supply that.
We've also increased the state's investment in subsidized child care by 50% -- from $200 to $300 million per biennium.
And we're working to make health insurance affordable for everyone by expanding the state's Basic Health Plan.
Our program rewards work. Disincentives to work have been removed.
People who work will take home more money than those who aren't working. And people will be encouraged to save money.
And once people are working, we will do all we can to make sure that every entry level job is the first step on a career ladder - not a treadmill that keeps people stuck in place.
These changes create a new system that reflects our mainstream values of hard work and personal responsibility.
And WorkFirst also reflects our mainstream values of compassion, kindness, and respect for the abilities and the potential of every Washington citizen.
WorkFirst will also take into account regional differences in the economy, job opportunities and the labor force.
And our state employees will provide individualized attention to welfare recipients.
A lot of people have been working overtime to prepare for the advent of WorkFirst.
Among them are
- Lyle Quasim, Director of the Department of Social and Health Services
- Tim Douglas, Director of the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development
- Carver Gayton, Commissioner of Employment Security, and
- Earle Hale, Executive Director of State Board for Community and Techncial Colleges.
Each of these agencies has been challenged to make historic changes in the way they think and work in just a few short months.
These leaders -- and all the people who work in their agencies -- have done heroic work, and they deserve our thanks.
They also need to know that we will listen to them, back them up, and learn from what they tell us about how we can continue to refine and improve the new system.
Changing a system that was built up over 60 years won't be easy, and there will be glitches along the way.
We will not lose sight of the goal of helping people become independent, and we will learn and improve at every step of the way.
But the most important and historic change that starts tomorrow isn't happening in state agencies.
It's happening right here.
It's the employers, community organizations, and individual citizens who are stepping forward to help make WorkFirst work.
Our new system is not a government safety net.
It is a community safety net - a partnership between government, business, community organizations and citizens.
The success of this program will depend on people like Dave Hooke, who is our host here today.
And it will depend on the participation of organizations like the Washington Restaurant Association, and the Spokane Chamber of Commerce.
The key to WorkFirst's success is jobs.
Our goal is to move 10,000 people off welfare and into the economic mainstream.
That's why I am so pleased and grateful that the Spokane Chamber of Commerce has integrated a concern for WorkFirst participants into its overall planning for this region's workforce development.
This is community leadership at its best.
The Spokane Chamber of Commerce and its allies didn't wait to be asked; they anticipated the need for an organized way to match WorkFirst participants with job opportunities.
And the Washington Restaurant Association has offered to match WorkFirst clients in both Spokane and King Counties with jobs in the food service industry.
The Restaurant Association is the first business association with which we will sign an agreement - the first of many.
And the jobs they can provide represent the first rung on a career ladder that many people can climb.
Dave Hooke, who owns this restaurant and five others is living proof that you can rise to the corporate boardroom from behind the lunch counter.
He started with little more than the willingness to work hard and learn new skills. And he has used his own success to help others.
Rachel Smith, the assistant manager of this restaurant, is a 23-year-old single Mom and former welfare recipient who, with Dave's support, has worked her way to independence.
We must replicate her success thousands of times over in the months and years ahead. And to do that we will need literally thousands more employers like Dave.
I want to reiterate this point one more time:
WorkFirst is not a government program.
It is a partnership between government, business, local community organizations, and citizens.
It will only succeed if all the partners do their part, as the Spokane Chamber, the Restaurant Association, and Dave Hooke are doing.
We all share personal responsibility for reducing poverty, and for working to close the gap between the richest and poorest in our society.
And if we work together, I am convinced that we can achieve those goals, and create hope and opportunity for thousands of Washington's neediest families.
Now I'd like to introduce Dave Hooke.
On behalf of the Washington Restaurant Association, he will describe the Association's job-match pilot program.
I want to emphasize that this is the first of many partnership agreements that we will sign with employers and employer associations.
But I also want to emphasize that WorkFirst requires changes in the way all of us think and behave.
Families and communities must become the first resort for people who fall on hard times, and government assistance must truly be the last resort.
That's the only way we'll be able to marshal the resources to sustain WorkFirst over the long term.
If we succeed - if everyone steps up to this challenge -- we can truly make a historic and important change that all of us want:
We can reduce poverty, help people join the economic mainstream, and bring the American Dream to life again for thousands of our fellow citizens.