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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on Stepping Up the War on Poverty.

February 17, 1965

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker: )

I request the doubling of the War Against Poverty.

In addition I request legislation to improve our ability to conduct that war.

We reaffirm our faith that poverty can be eliminated from this country, and our solemn commitment to prosecute the war against poverty to a successful conclusion. For that struggle is not only for the liberation of those imprisoned in poverty, but for the conscience and the values of a prosperous and free nation.

From the very beginning, this country, the idea of America itself, was the promise that all would have an equal chance to share in the fruits of our society.

As long as children are untrained, men without work, and families shut in gate-less 'poverty, that promise is unkept. New resources and knowledge, our achievements and our growth, have given us the resources to meet this pledge. Not meanly or grudgingly, but in obedience to an old and generous faith, let us make a place for all at the table of American abundance.

Our objective was stated by the Congress in the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964: "to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this Nation by opening to everyone, the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity."

THE PAGE. OF PROGRESS We have already begun to move toward this objective:

Local anti-poverty programs have been approved in 44 of the 50 states, and by June every state will be taking part.

Work is now underway on 53 Job Corps Centers. Seven are already in operation and 15 will be completed each month. Each will be filled with young men or women anxious to learn and work, and to give themselves a new and often unexpected opportunity for a productive life.

We will, this year, provide a school readiness program for 100,000 children about to enter kindergarten. This will help them overcome the handicaps of experience and feeling which flow from poverty and permit them to receive the full advantages of school experience.

By July, 3,500 VISTA Volunteers, aged 18-82, will be working to help their fellow Americans in communities across the country.

25,000 families, eligible for public assistance, are now enrolled in a work-experience program which provides jobs and skills for the family breadwinners, giving them a new prospect of emerging from a poverty which often reaches back through three generations.

We have established procedures, processed applications, and begun to make loans to thousands of struggling rural families and to small businesses.

In 49 cities and 11 rural communities, Neighborhood Youth Corps have been established. In these Corps, young men and women, between 16-21 can work to keep themselves in school, to return if they have dropped out, or to prepare for permanent jobs.

35,000 college level students can now continue their education through the income provided by part-time jobs. And 35,000 adults will be taught to read and write this year.

THE RISE OF NATIONAL CONCERN All of these programs--the accomplishments of the first year and the hopes of the future--depend upon the concern and initiative of local communities. It is now clear that the war against poverty has touched the hearts and the sense of duty of the American people. This cause has truly become their cause.

Community action organizations, planning and organizing the local effort to end poverty, have sprung up in communities in every part of the country. Over 5,000 prominent citizens are serving, without pay, on such organizations. National groups, such as the American Bar Association, have pledged their special resources to the plight of the poor. And 75 national organizations have banded together in a Citizens Crusade Against Poverty to begin specific projects.

And the response of the American nation is growing each day. New community action proposals from local groups are coming in at a rate of 130 a month. We have already received 750 applications.

Applications for the Job Corps are arriving at a rate of nearly 6000 a day.

8,000 men and women have volunteered to serve their fellow citizens in the VISTA program.

We estimate that at least 90,000 adults will be ready to enroll in adult basic education programs during the coming year.

And the same steady rise of interest and hope can be seen in every part of our program. We cannot afford, in conscience or in the national interest, to disappoint these hopes or to waste the valuable resources of human skill and energy which we are now beginning to tap.

RECOMMENDATIONS Therefore I am requesting the Congress to authorize the continuation of these pro, grams for the next two years, and to authorize and appropriate 1.5 billion dollars to conduct them during the fiscal year.

I am also asking Congress to extend for ten months, to June 30, 1967, the period during which certain programs may be funded with 90 percent federal assistance. If we do not do this, then many communities, especially those in rural or isolated areas and which lack the resources to get underway quickly, will be unable to qualify before the cutoff date.

In addition I recommend transfer of the work-study program to the Office of Education in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, as well as a series of technical amendments.

Last year Congress and my administration took a step unparalleled in the history of any nation. We pledged ourselves to the elimination of poverty in America. That was our commitment to the people we serve, and it reflected not only our own intentions but the will of the American people. We knew, and said then, that this battle would not be easily or swiftly won. But we began. Today we can take together another step along the path to the fulfillment of the American dream for all our citizens.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

For congressional actions in response to the President's recommendations see Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1965 (Public Law 89-253, 79 Stat. 973) and Supplemental Appropriation Act, 1966 (Public Law 89-309, 79 Stat. 1133).

On March 8 the White House made public the following release entitled "Presidential Report to the Nation on Poverty":

More than 3,400 communities have said that they want to set up Project Head Start classes to prepare the children of poverty for school this fall, President Johnson announced today. These requests have been received since the project was launched on February 19, 1965.

The President ordered Sargent Shriver, director of the War on Poverty, to set aside $50 million for the summer effort, three times the amount originally planned.

The President has budgeted $150 million for fiscal 1966 to put Head Start on a year-round basis.

Project Head Start is an eight-week, nationwide, crash program to prepare children whose development has been slowed by poverty to enter school on an equal footing with their more fortunate classmates.

The President said that a million deprived children would be entering school this fall, and noted that "many of them have never looked at a picture book or scribbled with a crayon. When these children enter school they are already a year behind their classmates," the President said. "The purpose of Head Start is to make up that year, to help them get the most out of school."

This announcement was one of the highlights in a progress report on the first five months of the War on Poverty. President Johnson signed the bill financing the federal anti-poverty program last October 7.

In a letter transmitting the report to the President, Shriver said that "your individual crusade has literally become every American's War on Poverty."

Highlights of the report. More than one thousand projects costing $317 million have been announced since the start of the War on Poverty.

Community Action. Ninety percent of the communities of more than 50,000 population and hundreds of rural counties have formed community action organizations. About 1.5 million urban and rural Americans in 46 states will be helped through 192 approved federal grants totalling $36 million.

Education services for young and old, and neighborhood service centers have been the most popular projects with local community action planners. An estimated 60,000 children in San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas, many of them offspring of migrant families, will learn to read and write along with their parents. The youngsters speak Spanish and English but cannot read or write in either language.

Job Corps. More than 140,000 young men and women 16 through 21 have volunteered for the Job Corps. By June 30, twenty to twenty-five thousand young men and women will be in training and the Corps will expand rapidly thereafter.

Of 86 centers announced, eight are in operation, and 46 others are under construction. Some 200 Job Corps enrollees are working with special crews to clean up flood damage in Oregon and northern California. Enrollees include many who had never been to a doctor or dentist, many who had rarely been more than a few miles from home, and some suffering from severe malnutrition.

VISTA. About 9,000 Americans, more than half of them between the ages of 18 and 30, have volunteered for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), the domestic Peace Corps. Volunteers are already at work, living and working with the poor in 11 urban and 22 rural projects. VISTA expects to have more than 2,000 volunteers in training or working in 218 projects in 40 states. Volunteers now are working among the mountain people of eastern Kentucky, with migrant farm workers in Gridley, California, and with dislocated poverty residents in Hartford, Connecticut.

Neighborhood Youth Corps. Some 15,000 young men and women, 16 through 21, have been enrolled in 40 Neighborhood Youth Corps projects. They receive training and work in full- or part-time jobs that enable them to stay in school, return to school, or improve their chances of getting a job. In all, 113 projects which have been approved will provide work training for 69,000 urban and 7,000 rural young people.

Work study. Forty-three thousand students from needy families are attending classes in over 600 colleges with the help of part-time jobs under the college Work-Study program.

Project Head Start. Project Head Start medical screening is expected to reveal, among every 100,000 children: 500 cases of tuberculosis, 12,000 children with at least partial blindness and 45,000 others with other eye difficulties requiring professional care, 30,000 partially-deaf children who would fail in school without care, 5,000 cases of nutritional anemia, and 6,000 mentally-retarded tots who can be given special education.

Rural family loans. More than 1,600 low-income rural families in 42 states and Puerto Rico have received loans averaging $1,850 to improve their incomes under the Economic Opportunity Act. The loans total nearly $3 million.

Work experience. About 32,000 unemployed parents of more than 100,000 children, most of them in families on relief, are working in Work-Experience projects that will develop their ability to hold regular jobs. Thirty-six Work-Experience projects in 23 states and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are being financed by $30.5 million in federal antipoverty funds.

Gratifying support from private sector. Thousands of community leaders from all walks of life are serving in local community action programs, Job Corps community councils in towns near Job Corps centers, Project Head Start committees, recruiting efforts for women's Job Corps centers and VISTA, and in other projects. Thirty-two American business firms have submitted proposals to operate Job Corps urban centers. Spirited competition has resulted in extremely high quality contracts at low cost. Shriver said that the tremendous response to various volunteers and other War on Poverty programs was due in no small part to the donated time and effort of American communications media.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on Stepping Up the War on Poverty. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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