Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
WorkFirst Southwest Region Workshop
March 10, 2004

Thank you, Dr. Mundy. Good morning everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here.

WorkFirst is an incredible success story. More than 138,000 parents helped off welfare. The lowest welfare rate for our state in more than 30 years. A 44% drop in the number of families on welfare since 1997. 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.

We can be proud that in our state, we did the right thing to help people. When we enacted welfare reform in 1997, we refused to follow some disturbing national trends. In negotiations with the legislature, I refused to let welfare reform become an opportunity to institutionalize anti-immigrant prejudice. I threatened to veto legislation unless changes were made to protect legal immigrants.

I’m proud to say those changes were made. We did not discriminate against legal immigrants then, and I’ve worked hard to try to make sure we never do.

We also refused to use new federal welfare guidelines to create a program that just pushed people out the door. For me, welfare reform has never been about reducing caseloads.

If our only goal was to reduce caseloads, we could have easily changed the rules and regulations so that virtually no one qualified for public assistance. And we could have dramatically reduced the rolls. But that would have done nothing to reduce poverty and to improve the lives of people.

Welfare reform means lifting families out of poverty, and improving lives. So we made substantial investments in childcare and training. And then we re-invested the early savings from welfare into more childcare, more family support and more training programs. The result is that WorkFirst has done a great job of helping people get a job, get a better job, and achieve a better life.

The program brings business, government, education and people in need together. These partnerships benefit everyone—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.

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 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, especially with training and incentives.

WorkFirst also reflects the importance of human dignity – self worth. 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.

Finally, the program is rooted in a strong, simple work ethic. 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 in Washington state. Today we face the challenge of keeping up our positive effort with limited resources. It’s great that you are looking at best practices across the state, including the great programs in Spokane!.

We must continue our partnerships with the federal government, too. I am thrilled that low-income families can now come into their worksource office and find the support they need to file their Earned Income Tax Credit and child tax credit claims. This program has the potential to bring hundreds of millions of dollars into our state and into the pockets of the families we help every day. This is exactly the kind of innovation and creative thinking that will keep our program strong into the future.

I want to thank each of you for your hard work in helping others. And I urge you to continue your efforts. You are improving lives, and making a difference. One family at a time.

Thank you.

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