Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
WorkFirst Partners Convention
October 6, 1999
WORKING HARD AT WORK WORTH DOING
I have to tell you—coming here and listening to Robin Todd was worth it all. Wasn’t that just incredible? He came back to the theme of “giving me one moment in time.” Maybe we should make that our new motto. Thank you very much for that great performance, Robin. And thank you—all of you who are here from all across the state. I had a chance to meet just a few of you from Spokane and Port Orchard and Aberdeen and Port Angeles and Everett, and you guys are doing a great, great job.
It’s really a pleasure to be here and I have some great news to share with you. Just today we are announcing that Washington State, because of our incredible success on WorkFirst, has been awarded some 23 million dollars from HUD for some 4,000 welfare-to-work housing vouchers to be distributed in seven cities and counties throughout our state. And I have to tell you Washington State is the state that got the second highest grant from all across the country, second only to California. And that’s because of the great job that you all have done.
You all know that part of the equation of getting people back on to economic self-sufficiency involves so many different pieces of the puzzle. It’s not just a job. It’s childcare. It’s medical care. It’s child support. And of course, it’s affordable housing. And these vouchers will help us get there, so thank you all very much again.
Teddy Roosevelt said that the best prize life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. Maya Angelou defined work as something made greater by ourselves that in turn makes us greater. And John Lennon said that work is life, and without it, there’s nothing but fear and insecurity.
I’m here today to thank you—to thank each and every one of you—for the great work you do every day, helping other people secure the chance to work. You’re doing so much more than helping people get jobs. You’re helping them get jobs, better jobs, and a better life. You are giving them self-confidence and self-esteem to replace the fear and insecurity that displacement breeds.
When a client walks through your door, the complexities of her case are a mystery. What strengths does this person possess? What barriers inhibit her? And what will it take to move this person back into self-sufficiency?
There’s no formula or recipe you can follow—each client is unique. And it’s your job to open your hearts, break down the barriers, and release those strengths. No, that’s not really your job, but it’s what you do to get the job done.
You know, every two weeks I get a performance report about how we are doing on welfare reform and WorkFirst. As soon as I get it, I go through it right away. I watch these graphs with the same hunger that other people chart the Dow Jones or Microsoft stock. But this report graphs our overall objectives and goals in WorkFirst as well as individual targets each agency has to meet. I pour through this report. But more than numbers—I never lose sight of what this report represents. This report represents the real hands-on help the people in this room are giving to the people who need it most.
This report represents the way Karen Hendrickson, Garry Lutz, and Chris Vannice worked together to reconstruct an Oak Harbor man’s life. This man had a good life. He had a wife and four kids. He had a job at a shipping company where he supervised 46 people for 9 years, but when the shipyard closed, he lost his job.
This man went on public assistance and stayed there for 74 weeks. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t find a family-wage job. He was leery about the WorkFirst program. “Another bureaucratic waste of time,” he thought. But Karen, Garry and Chris didn’t lose heart. They saw this man’s strengths, and expressed empathy for his struggles.
Today he has a job with full benefits. His kids are safe in a WorkFirst-subsidized childcare program. And, best of all, he’s up for promotion.
This report, that I get every two weeks and turn to first thing, represents the way Terri Cantil, Jacklyn Montgomery, Bethina Golden and Denise Hollis launched a woman in Pierce County towards self-sufficiency. This woman had a healthy life. A husband. A child. No reason to believe she’d ever be anything but self-sufficient. But things beyond her control landed her in a domestic violence situation and ended up homeless. Today? Thanks to the teamwork of Terri, Jacklyn, Bethina and Denise, she’s got a certificate from Clover Park Community College. She volunteers at a school for homeless children. She’s gainfully employed as a family support worker. And she has a scholarship to pursue a four-year degree in social work. That’s right. Let’s celebrate!
This report represents every time you go to the drugstore to buy things for yourselves and your families and you end up thinking about your clients: do they need barrettes? Socks? Breath spray?
This report that I get every two weeks represents every time you take a client to the movies after hours, because you know that’s what they need to establish trust with you.
This report represents every time you have taken the time to deal with your clients’ life-issues, without ever being condescending.
This report represents every time you have seen your clients’ pain and their potential.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the two years since we launched WorkFirst. We’ve lowered the number of families on public assistance by roughly forty percent since I first took office. We’ve put more than 70,000 people to work. But we are not doing it the way other states have approached it. We did it, I think, in a better fashion. We could have dramatically lowered our caseload by being punitive; by establishing eligibility criteria for benefits that would have made it impossible for people to qualify. We could have reduced our caseload by 60, 70, 90%. But we would have done nothing to improve people’s economic sufficiency, or gotten them on a path of self-sufficiency. Nor did we penalize immigrants, past, present, or future. We did welfare reform right.
Our current success is because of your efforts. An incredible corporate culture change has occurred in so many of our agencies across the state. Your jobs are no longer to just determine eligibility for public assistance, but to help people find jobs, better jobs, a career and a better life.
It used to be that 1 in 8 clients took that first step towards self-sufficiency by working while on welfare. Now that number is 1 in 3. We’ve decreased the percentage of people who return-to-welfare within a year from 21% to 16%! And we’ve collected child support for roughly 80,000 families who either have been or are on public assistance.
That’s all great. But I know none of this could have been accomplished without you and your great work and dedication to this new way of approaching public assistance. We have so much to be proud of today, and most of all I am so very proud of the dedicated state employees who have made this possible. Again, thank you all very much.
I saw the testimonials on that video. With all of the people you come across, you know you are making the difference in people’s lives. You are giving them hope. You are putting them on the path to self-sufficiency. You have much to be proud of. But now is not the time to slow down. Our economy is booming. We must seize this opportunity and get people trained and experienced, so they will remain employed when the economy slows. We must work harder than ever at work worth doing. We must be impatient, not complacent.
Let’s get that return rate down to 12% by the end of the year. Let’s make sure not just 80,000 but 90,000 families in need get the child support that they are owed! And let’s create childcare that really works for working families. This is our biggest challenge.
We need childcare that’s available on nights and on weekends. We need back-up childcare for when children get sick. How can people work if their children get sick and there is no one there at home to help out? We need childcare for children with special needs. Right now, our staff is going from community college to community college, trying to ensure that when people go there for job training there is childcare there for them.
We are working with public health nurses to provide consultations with childcare providers for children with special health care needs at those facilities. And we’re changing the rate structure to provide incentives for childcare centers that provide care on weekends and during the evening hours.
But there is still more work to be done. We’ve put a lot of things on the table. But the real nuts and bolts of making things happen are in your hands.
You are the lifesavers. If the system is the ship that sails to rescue the shipwrecked, it doesn’t matter how close we steer that vessel towards the people—if we don’t have the people like you who are willing to climb into the lifeboats and put your hands out and pull people in, the system is useless.
I know what you’re all saying. Whenever you exceed your expectations or our expectations, your reward is an even harder client to serve. Well, you’re right. You’re right. And the reality is, given our success, people who are remaining on public assistance are those with more severe problems; people who lack education or the very basic skills to get a job. They are truly the harder clients to serve. But if we can get them into economic self-sufficiency, what better lives they will have. Challenges are high, but the rewards for them and for our society are higher.
Today I’ve got great news. I’ve got $300,000 worth of checks to deliver. These awards are performance-based because we believe that good work leads to better work.
You know, when I first spoke I said that each family is unique. There is no recipe or formula you can follow to address an individual family’s needs. That’s why it’s up to you how to make this money do the most work. If you see a need, address it! If there is a service or program or resource you think would help your clients get into the workforce and stay in the workforce, then by all means create it. And if there’s an opportunity to provide more childcare for working families, seize it.
Be creative. Be bold. Take risks. Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Getting people jobs, better jobs, better lives.
I want to tell you that just outside I was talking to some of the people who operate the Community Jobs program, and they’ve made incredible progress in just the last several months. And I asked them what the problem had been. They said that they are changing it, re-vamping it, making it simpler, streamlining the rules and the processes—they analyzed the process and they figured out how to remove the barriers. They said that one nice feature was that Lyle Quasim of DSHS told them they wanted to reduce the WACs down to about this thin. Can you all see this? I want to make sure you can see how thick that WAC is, all right. You see that, Lyle? I told them they were wrong. I told them they were wrong. It’s not supposed to be this thick, the rules or the WACS. I want them THAT thick. Right Lyle? We need to unleash your creativity. You know what needs to be done. You know what works and doesn’t work. And the more that we can entrust you by freeing you of these WAC rules and regulations and giving you simple guidelines, the better off our welfare recipients and WorkFirst clients will be. And I think the more successful you will be in helping them come to self-sufficiency.
Before we move on to the passing out of these checks, just let me say one thing. We cannot expect perfection from state employees. We cannot expect perfection. But I do believe in giving you more power and strength at the line level. And as long as you act reasonably, and as long as you act in good faith, if things don’t work out, that’s okay.
My message to state employees from top to bottom—from rank and file to the supervisors and department heads—is that you will never have me hanging anyone out to dry, our state employees, for trying hard, acting reasonably, but having failures. We are not perfect in our personal lives with our spouses or as parents, with the buying and selling of Microsoft stock. We are not perfect in bowling. We are not perfect in softball—one team wins, one team loses. But as long as we are working hard, acting reasonably, using good judgment, that’s all we can ask for. And that’s my pledge to you. That’s why, in terms of WorkFirst, we have been on a crusade to simplify processes and procedures to give more empowerment down to the line level. And that’s why we are seeing such great success. I am so proud of how incredibly hard you have worked and how much you have accomplished. That’s my only reason for being here today—to thank you all for the incredible job you have done with welfare reform. Let’s not stop until every WorkFirst participant has a family wage job. Thank you.