Jimmy Carter photo

Interview With the National Black Network Question-and-Answer Session With Representatives of the Network.

July 18, 1977

MR. SANDERS. We will begin our questions with Joe Brown.

MR. BROWN. Mr. President, welcome to "Black Issues and the Black Press."

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you. I am glad to be with you.


MR. BROWN. Some leaders say that the violence that erupted during New York City's blackout and the deprivation in New York City and other black communities is tied to what they call a powder keg with other cities around the country. And if that is true, do you prefer or do you favor a preferential treatment for blacks in order to work off this type of reaction around the country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously, it is of great concern to the whole Nation when violence occurs, when theft occurs or looting occurs or damage to property or persons occurs. There is no excuse for it. But it is also important that public officials like myself try to understand the reasons for it.

Obviously, the number one contributing factor to crime of all kinds, in my opinion, is high unemployment among young people, particularly those who are black or Spanish-speaking or in a minority age or group where they have such a difficult time getting jobs in times of economic problems.

We have begun to study the reasons for the entire incident in New York. I think had the power companies notified homeowners immediately to turn off air conditioners, TV sets, and cut down on power consumption, the crisis could have been avoided. If we had a comprehensive nationwide grid system where we could feed in power when a certain area has its source disrupted, that would have helped. If we had some closer working relationship between local, State, and Federal authorities with the power companies, that would have helped.

But the long-range problem is to restore confidence of citizens who live in a community in the structure of government, police officers, the housing opportunities, good jobs, and this obviously was not the case in New York. So, I think that this is an additional indication of the need to channel government programs for housing, health, education, job opportunities in the deteriorating urban areas that have been neglected too long.


MR. AGURS. Mr. President, in light of what you said about channeling resources and what-not, I would like to go back for a moment, if I might, to Tuesday's press conference during which a discussion of the abortion issue was taking place. And you were asked to reconcile your stand on abortion with your stand for---the statement I am getting at, sir, is there are certain things in this society-life is not fair, you said. Poor people cannot afford certain things that wealthy people can. How do you reconcile a statement like that with concern for deprivation and turning around the economic system?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in any sort of societal structure or any degree of economic prosperity or need, and with any kind of Federal, State, or local budget, you have a limitation on money available for those who need help from government to give them an equal opportunity. Having that limited amount of money to spend in all, a President or Congress has to set priorities for expenditure; what is the greatest need? Is it a higher need to have preventive health care with physical examinations for children, immunization programs, the care for elderly, adequate housing, adequate food, adequate diet for a certain amount of money, or should you take a substantial portion of that money and pay for abortions from the Government?

I don't think that the Government ought to finance abortions except when the abortions are a danger to the potential mother's life or when they are caused by rape or incest. We have in this respect not a callous or unconcerned attitude toward the poor. But I personally find it very difficult to have a program which encourages abortion.

If the purpose of the Government-and I think its legitimate purpose--is to prevent the birth of unwanted children, I think the best way to spend limited Federal moneys, again, is in the education of sometimes ignorant young people, women and men, and making available to them family planning instruction plus contraceptive devices that would prevent a pregnancy to begin with.

I hate to see a government finance a very expensive program where young women get to depend upon abortion to correct a mistake that never should have occurred.


MR. SANDERS. You mentioned a long range plan, and that has been your contention throughout your campaign. And you have also been described by a number of writers as being a man high on symbols. Do you feel if you had extended a few more symbols into specifically the New York area, the black community, that you probably would have contributed to heading off what did happen during the blackout?

THE PRESIDENT. This is hard to know. We have had a massive new effort made since I have been in office, for instance, concerning employment. We have passed legislation through the Congress that helps our economy, about $21 billion worth, which is a very major amount; about $4 billion for public works. We have provided for 1.1 million summer jobs for young people, plus about 435,000 new jobs in public service, working for local and State governments.

In addition to that, we have initiated now a health screening program for poor people. We have given a $4 billion tax reduction, where way over half of it goes to people who have less than $10,000 in income.

I have tried to make appointments in very major and sensitive positions to black people so that would be an obvious indication about my own concern about minority citizens.

Housing is a very important aspect, the rebuilding of downtown urban ghetto areas. That falls under the responsibility of the Housing and Urban Development Department. I put Pat Harris, who happens to be a black woman, in charge of that.

A lot of young people serve in the Army who are minority members of our communities. I appointed the first black Secretary of the Army. The head of all education programs in the Nation happens to be a black woman.

So, I have tried not only to give symbols but I have also tried to make sure we started programs that would be effective. Of course, the first budget that I have available to implement is the 1978 budget, which begins the first of October. And the brief period I have been in office, I think, has been a period that we have used to the utmost advantage so far. But the outcome of our efforts to give poor people a new lease on life and a new chance to improve themselves is one that can only be proven over the months ahead.

MR. SANDERS. President Jimmy Carter is our guest on this edition of the "Black Press." We will be back for more questions right after this word.

We continue our questions with Joe Brown.


MR. BROWN. You have said housing is important to particularly minorities and the poor. But it is reported that your administration wants to cut subsidized housing or the subsidized housing program, the program now, which is to provide about 400,000 homes per year, and it is reported that your administration wants to cut that back to 50,000 homes per year using additional moneys to go to welfare recipients.

If that is true, then, sir, how--it doesn't seem to add up that housing is important to minorities, but we are taking from one poor group and giving to another poor group.

THE, PRESIDENT. The housing budget we put forward, which the Congress is going to approve without a doubt, is probably the greatest single step forward that has ever been taken in the country. We are now building at a rate of about 2 million new homes a year in this Nation, and this has been a standard rate of growth over the last number of months. Block grant programs for urban renewal are being approved by Congress, just as Pat Harris and I recommended.

The question that has been raised, not by me but by some of my heads of departments, is one that must be decided in the future, coming along as a part of a comprehensive welfare reform, and the basic question is, should you provide very nice homes for a few families in our country or should you give many poor people additional income so that the average quality of their housing should be improved for millions of people.

So far the basic philosophy of our Government has been to give very nice homes to just a few people and make many millions of people suffer. But this is a matter that will have to be addressed, I would say, in the next 12 months.

But overall, the amount of money that goes for better housing for poor people is going to increase, I guess, every year I am in the White House.


MR. AGURS. What you say, Mr. President, makes sense in one respect, but in terms of what you promised in the campaign, to reduce the military budget in favor of social programs, has not happened.

I would like to go to a statement by Representative Shirley Chisholm, with whom you met last week, who says, while your commitment to social programs and alleviating the social programs of the Nation is unquestionable, she finds--she is concerned about a lack of that same commitment on the part of some of the individuals from whom you get advice.

Are you aware of that concern, and what do you plan to do to eliminate the fears and, I might add, which is shared by many in the black community?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have cut the military budget considerably. I recommended a reduction in the military budget of $3 1/2 billion to begin with, which has been approved by Congress. They have reduced it a little more than I did, about an extra billion and a half dollars. And then in the last couple of weeks, I recommended the termination of the B-1 bomber program, which amounts to another reduction of $1.4 billion. At the same time, we have had about a $21 billion increase in making our economy grow more rapidly with job programs, public works programs, summer employment .programs, better health programs, housing programs, and tax reductions. So, I think the essence of it so far is that we have done exactly what I promised during the campaign.

Representative Chisholm did come to see me and pointed out that in her opinion some of my employees or subordinates at the community level were not carrying out as enthusiastically as I was trying to do here at the White House, programs that would improve the lives of poor people. I think that this very well may be true. I have only been in office now about 6 months, and we have not been given the authority to change all the administrators that were left over from the Nixon and Ford administrations. But I think it is accurate to say Joe Califano and Pat Harris and others are trying to make changes now. And my guess is that the field workers who are at the community or city level working in the Federal Government agencies are making strides to carry out the programs that we initiate here in Washington.

I think that you probably know that the present budget under which we operate is a fiscal year '77 budget, which was passed by the Congress a year ago. And when our own new budget goes into effect in October, you will see another increase in the quality of services for poor people.

MR. SANDERS. Mr. President, can we shift that responsibility back here to the White House?


MR. SANDERS. And find out really if these programs can be translated into the kind of language that would be at least acceptable and understandable to those people out there on the street? You are talking about reorganization--

THE PRESIDENT. That is right.

MR. SANDERS. ---and balancing the budget. Those are top priorities, but how does that translate to Joe Blow who needs a job?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, since last November when I was elected, we have had an increase in the number of people employed in this country of 3 million. In December the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent. We set as a goal for ourselves this year to cut it down to 7 percent. It has already been cut down to 7 percent in the first 6 months. We have had a $4 billion tax reduction. The .average family that makes $10,000 a year, all the family members put together, have had their taxes cut already 30 percent. That is on .a permanent basis. In addition to that, we have started many programs whose impact would not be felt for a year or two. But we are now beginning to see the benefits of the public works program, which is going to be building, say, in New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Los Angeles.

We also see the public service jobs, which will have 715,000 people employed plus over a million summer jobs for young people. These programs are just now beginning to be seen, because it took a while to get them started. But I think for the average family in this country there has been a change already in tone and attitude and confidence in the Government.

And the thing that I want to make sure of is that we deserve that confidence. We are not trying to rest on our laurels. We are not trying to brag on ourselves. There are other things that can be done and will be done.

We are trying to make sure the social security system is sound, and we are trying to make it sound not by cutting benefits to poor people, not by taxing the working family. If the Congress goes ahead with our recommendation, this can be done. We are trying to make sure people who have been kept from voting in the past have a chance to register to vote easily and to increase their participation in government. And I have directed all my Cabinet officers to get out in the field and in the streets of the cities to listen to suggestions and listen to complaints.

So, I cannot guarantee that everybody is living now a better life. That would be asking too much. But I think the trend is in that direction, and I don't think there is a single member of my cabinet or a single staff member who works in the White House who does not have as our major goal the improvement of the lives of the poor people in this country who have been ignored.

MR. SANDERS. We will have more questions right after this word.

We will resume our questions with Joe Brown.


MR. BROWN. Mr. Carter, your decision-it is reported you have made a decision to put an arbitrary ceiling on welfare--welfare and jobs programs when there has been no ceiling placed on such programs as tax reform, energy, defense, and the rest of it. We are wondering why has it been here that there has been a ceiling placed when the poor and the disadvantaged are at the very bottom of the special needs department?

THE PRESIDENT. We are trying to have a comprehensive welfare reform program. The defense budget has been cut, and as: we change from a welfare program that is not fair to one that is simple and fair at the same time, we are trying to plow into it a combination work and welfare effort.

I want to be sure, for instance, that we add on to the new welfare program, in addition to the jobs I have described to you so far, about 1 million extra jobs. Our goal is to be sure that every family in the United States, that at least one member of that family will have a job, either in private life or a public job that pays a wage adequate to finance that family. So, as we shift away from welfare cost, not' reducing it at all and make it more fair, more widely spread, with an emphasis on a job where there is no limit on income, that is a step in the right direction.

I might point out initial to that we have already advocated to the Congress or recommended to the Congress some additional improvements that I haven't mentioned yet. One, of course, is to remove from the food stamp program the requirement that cash money be put up to get food stamps.

We have removed that requirement, and I believe the Congress is going to go along with it. So, the overall approach for the welfare recipient is to make their income surer, higher, with better housing, better health care, and, at the same time, a constant opportunity for people within that family to get off dependence on welfare if they are able and willing and to have a productive job where there is no limit on that family's income.


MR. AGURS. If I might shift the focus, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in a recent report found a serious lack of administrative force behind the enforcement of civil rights laws and recommended that you appoint an individual whose sole responsibility would be a carrying out of legal mandates regarding individual rights. My question is: What is your reaction to their finding, and what do you plan to do with their recommendation?

THE PRESIDENT. I think their findings were very helpful to the whole Nation and certainly to me. As you probably know, the person that I have placed in charge of the equal opportunity commission, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is a very well experienced black woman, whose reputation is one of complete commitment to rooting out discrimination and making sure that corrective action is taken. The Solicitor General, who works within the Justice Department, Wade McCree, happens to be a black judge from Detroit. His reputation as someone who will root out discrimination is superb. And at the same time in many other major departments of Government, in HEW, for instance, we have tried to do the same thing.

So, I don't think it would be better to have one person, for instance, working in the White House here, who would be responsible for civil rights, but the best thing to do is to have the prosecutor in the Justice Department, top officials in the equal opportunity commission, civil fights commission of HEW, working at this problem from a wide range of power bases.

One place, as I mentioned earlier, that has in the past been a root of discrimination is in the Armed Forces where many young men now volunteer to serve our country in danger to their lives. I thought the best approach to that would be to appoint, for instance, a black man to be the Secretary of the Army. This has been an unheard of thing in the past.

So, I believe that in general the Civil Rights Commission did point out areas of discrimination. They did recommend that the sensitive people be put in at the top of these .agencies responsible for correction of discrimination, and I think the ones I have appointed will do a good job.


MR. SANDERS. Mr. President, the University of California v. Bakke--the Allen Bakke case is a formidable threat to most of the affirmative action programs that we have seen in the past. How far are you willing to go with your influence here at the White House to see that that case does not reverse some of the gains that have been made?

THE PRESIDENT. I have had a discussion with both the Secretary of HEW, Mr. Califano, and the Attorney General about this case. And I think that we will prevent a reversion to the previous discrimination that did exist; at the same time, we want to respect the need for an adequate level of education for minority groups in our country, and we also want to preserve the heritage and background and history that is part of the lives of minority families.

I think that it is accurate to say that I, the Vice President, the Secretary of HEW, and the Attorney General are all committed to making sure that these concerns that I have just outlined to you are met and that the discrimination that has been a part of our national life in the past is ended.

MR. SANDERS. Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. I have enjoyed it very much.

Note: The radio interview began at 2:02 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. Participating in the interview were: Vince Sanders, vice president and national news director of the network, Joe Brown, editor, and Don Agurs, White House correspondent.

As printed above, this item follows the text of the White House press release which was issued on July 22.

Jimmy Carter, Interview With the National Black Network Question-and-Answer Session With Representatives of the Network. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243383

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