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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Signs Historic Welfare Bill

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Bill Clinton signed historic welfare that rewrites six decades of social policy, ending the federal guarantee of cash assistance to the poor and turning welfare programs over to the states.


"Today, we are ending welfare as we know it," Clinton said at a White House ceremony Thursday, where he was flanked by three former welfare recipients. "But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for what it began."


Clinton's endorsement of the bill, which requires recipients to work and limits benefits to five years, fulfills a 1992 campaign promise that came to symbolize his image as a centrist Democrat. But Thursday, as the bill passed its final hurdle, there seemed to be less an atmosphere of celebration than a cloud of controversy over the Rose Garden.


Gone were the Marine Band and Democratic congressional leaders who had attended bill-signing ceremonies earlier this week for bills increasing the minimum wage and making health insurance more accessible. Republicans, who had prodded Clinton for months to sign a welfare bill, refused to give him credit. And the divisions among Democrats over the legislation were readily apparent.


Even as Clinton signed the measure, women's groups and advocates for the poor protested along Pennsylvania Avenue, vowing to carry their dispute to the Democratic convention in Chicago next week.


The bill's enactment is likely to be remembered as a defining moment for Clinton, who vetoed two previous versions and battled with himself over whether to reject this measure as well.


Thursday, he labeled the measure "far from perfect," criticizing provisions that reduce spending on food stamps and deny aid to many legal immigrants. But he offered an explanation why he was signing it. "We can change what is wrong," Clinton said. "We should not have passed this historic opportunity to do what is right."


In a statement, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole praised the bill and said it would be remembered as a Republican victory. "After two vetoes of similar welfare reform bills, President Clinton knew he couldn't afford a third strike," he said.


The bill ends the long-standing cash-assistance known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, abolishing an entitlement created 61 years ago that guarantees that any eligible poor person can receive aid.


In its place, states will establish their own assistance programs, funded by an annual federal payment instead of the open-ended stream of federal funds they have received in the past. States can determine who is eligible and for how long, although federal funds may not be used to provide benefits for more than five years over a lifetime.


Under the measure, states are required to move half of adults on welfare into jobs by 2002. The bill also creates a comprehensive child support collection system, requires unmarried teen parents on welfare to live at home and stay in school and provide $4 billion more in child care funding than is currently available for welfare parents required to work.