Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
WorkFirst Statewide Business Appreciation Luncheon
November 20, 2002

Thank you Martha. Good afternoon everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here.

WorkFirst is an incredible success story. We’ve already talked about some of the numbers, but they bear repeating. Nearly 125,000 parents helped off welfare. The lowest welfare rate for our state in 30 years. A 45% drop in the number of families on welfare since 1997. And a reduction by more than one-third in state spending on welfare grants.

That’s what I call a very successful program. And that’s what I mean when I say it is indeed a pleasure to be here today.

WorkFirst does a great job of helping people get a job, get a better job, and achieve a better life.

We need more programs like that. These are tough times. We face many challenges. There are tough problems to solve.

WorkFirst and programs like it are part of the solution. WorkFirst is an outstanding example of the approach by which we will come out of this recession. The program brings business, government, education and people in need together. The result is a program that benefits all of us. Everyone wins.

Parents win by getting off welfare and getting on with their lives. They win by becoming more self-reliant.

Businesses win by gaining valued employees and helping people who deserve an opportunity. They win by saving on recruitment, training and hiring costs.

Children win by learning a work ethic from the people who matter most to them—their parents.

Communities win by gaining a vibrant local economy and more local tax revenue for police, fire and schools.

And government wins with reductions in welfare costs. Costs go down, employment goes up. That’s definitely a winning combination.

At a time when we need more solutions and more wins, WorkFirst is good news. Instead of perpetuating the poverty cycle, we are breaking it. Instead of encouraging people to stay on welfare, we’re helping people escape welfare to become contributors to our economy.

WorkFirst helps participants gain employment. And it helps our state keep pace with the workforce demands of the 21st century. It puts people to work and helps them stay employed and continue to succeed.

As Martha said earlier, this program is all about effective partnerships. Businesses, agencies, and the participants come together to make it work. I want to personally thank the businesses that take part in this program. You are helping people who need an opportunity. And you are helping our state’s economy.

Today we recognize a few of the many highly successful partnerships in this program. We will honor today’s recipients with this award.

Today we also honor everyone else in this program. We honor the power of working together to make our communities and our state better.

WorkFirst embodies values that we all agree are worthwhile. It is based on personal responsibility. Participants take responsibility for their own future. They take responsibility for supporting their families. They take the initiative to make a positive change to better themselves—and to better contribute to the world around them.

WorkFirst is based on opportunity. It reflects our conviction that people are willing to work hard if they are given an opportunity. This program shows people the way to the American Dream—the dream that if you work hard and apply yourself, you can have a better life. Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue that dream.

Like all of you, I was very moved to hear the story of Barbara Fernald. Just a few short years ago, Barbara was just trying to break into the workforce after years on welfare.

Today she is the star of this show and an inspiration to others. Barbara was given something much more important than a monthly check—she was given an opportunity. Her story dramatizes far better than any words of mine just how much difference an opportunity can make.

WorkFirst also reflects the importance of human dignity. Participants discover that they can make it on their own. They can take care of their families. They can have a career and a better life.

They learn that they can be self-reliant, self-sufficient and self-respecting. This gives them something else—a much stronger sense of self worth. A sense of dignity.

The program is rooted in a strong, simple work ethic. Participants learn that they can get a job, keep a job, get a better job and build a better life. WorkFirst gives people a chance to learn the rewards of diligence, persistence and commitment.

In the meantime, they are showing their children what hard work can accomplish. The work ethic is passed on.

We have made great progress in helping welfare recipients go to work. We must remain committed not just to helping people get that first job, but committed to their ongoing success. We want to help people progress on to better jobs that will lift their families out of poverty.

Next week is Thanksgiving. Looking around this room today, that seems so appropriate. We have much to be thankful for. For most of us, life has given opportunities and the chance to be free of want. WorkFirst gives us something more that humbles us. It gives us a chance to pass our good fortune on by helping others help themselves.

Today we celebrate and recognize the power of opportunity and the power of helping people better their lives.

To the many businesses, agencies, educational and training institutions that make WorkFirst a successful effort, my heartfelt thanks. Keep up the good work, and have a nice Thanksgiving!

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