Franklin D. Roosevelt

Press Conference

December 22, 1939

(Advance holiday pay for government employees—Health—Hospitals in the poorer sections of the country—Prevention of sabotage-Policy on feeding starving people at home—Candidacy for third term.)

THE PRESIDENT: I did take up the question as to whether we could pay the good people who serve the Government ahead of the regular pay day, at the end of the month, but the Director of the Budget and, I think, the Comptroller General say that, unfortunately, we cannot do it under the law. I have done my best and we shall all have to stay "broke" because of Christmas for a few days until the second of January, except some people who have new radio contracts and things like that.

Q. Mr. President, are you reviving the Interdepartmental Health Committee?

THE PRESIDENT: No; I do not know where that crazy story came from. . . .

Q. Is Miss Roche [Miss Josephine Roche] going to stay?


They are working along the line of continuing their studies. They are also working along another line which I suggested to them, which might be called an effort during the coming year to work out a plan on a small basis instead of waiting for a complete and perfected plan, such as a plan similar to the Wagner Bill and the Harrison Bill, which would cost an awful lot of money—might run up to a very, very large sum every year.

The chief trouble with those plans for health, as you all know, is that they are more or less based on what we call the "matching basis." The trouble with the matching basis is that those States which have the most money are able to put up the most money and get the greatest amount of Federal aid; and those, of course, are the States that have the best health conditions. The poorest health conditions are in those States which have the least money to put up, and therefore would get the least Federal aid.

This general proposal that we are studying at the present time is that—on the assumption that we are not going ahead on the 45-55 matching basis on public works, as hitherto, for schoolhouses and county courthouses and jails and water works and sewer systems, et cetera and so on—we could afford, in a comparatively small way, to have the Federal Government finance hospitals and clinics—I suppose the best term is "medical centers"—in those parts of the United States that have not any hospitals or facilities.

You take, for instance, two cases: I have in mind a county in the State of New York with about 100,000 population that has six pretty good hospitals in it and enough money to keep those hospitals going. That is a pretty good health service, taking it by and large. Then I have in mind another area in the lower South where three counties with a total of about the same population, 100,000 people, have not a hospital within the three counties, no clinic, no operating room, and are eighty miles from the nearest hospital. They can only send patients if there are free vacant beds in that hospital eighty miles away.

Now, the general thought is that in a locality like the latter—and there are probably several hundred of them in the United States—the Federal Government should build small hospitals, on condition that the Federal Government is satisfied that the local people will be able to operate and manage that hospital in a successful way, both from the point of health efficiency and from the point of view of finance. If they once got the plant, the local communities would have to sustain it along adequate lines, both financially and from the point of view of good medical service. And the cost of what might be called the first experimental step to bring better medical health center facilities to the places that have not any at all would not be very great. The idea would be to start it in such a way as to serve the most needy communities first; and, if the thing works, it can be developed further.

Q. Mr. President, would that be a substitute for the Wagner Bill?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I would not call it that. It would mean at this particular coming session we would not attempt to put through a general plan on a nationwide basis, but that this would be a step toward the improvement of health in those communities that have complete lack of facilities today.

Q. Would that take new legislation?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, my, yes.

Q. Where would the funds come from and which agency would do it?

THE PRESIDENT: It would be a combination. The Government would put it up. It would be a combination of P.W.A. and W.P.A., using, at the same time, W.P.A. labor as far as we can.

Q. Does the U.S. Public Health Service come in?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. They come in on the plans and, with probably some very distinguished group of doctors, they would pass on the plans and also on the approval of the local operating methods.

Q. They would make the plans and the surveys?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, and also the inspection to see that it was kept up to the promises.

Q. Has the Federal Security Administrator worked with this committee in formulating this plan?

THE PRESIDENT: It is being studied. It is in the preliminary study stage and I have talked to quite a number of doctors. I am talking very soon with the American Medical Association people; they have a committee of seven who are studying this same type of project.

Q. Mr. President, do you mean the Federal Government would bear all the construction expense?

THE PRESIDENT: All the construction expense on the condition that the maintenance and operation and management would be carried out completely by the local people.

Let me give you an illustration which will probably show you what I mean: Take any one of three or four given areas that I know of, one of them in the Middle West, one in the rather far West, not as far as the Coast, and a couple of them down south. Doctors in those places have come to me and have said, "The one thing we cannot do is to build a hospital. We cannot get the money; it is a poor section. We cannot build a hospital. We cannot put in operating rooms. We cannot buy an ambulance to go with it. We cannot put in facilities for trained nurses. We cannot raise the capital. But, if we could get a small plant, we think we could maintain it."

I said, "What do you mean by a small plant?" Now, this is just one example. They said, "In our locality we could put up a one-story building of wood. It is a good section for wood. The building would last fifty or seventy-five years if it was kept painted. Being one-story, it is perfectly safe from the point of view of fire. It would have an administration building with a clinic in it that people could come to, and an operating room, and also a laboratory which, of course, is necessary for any modern hospital."

I said, "What could you do it for?" "Well," they said, "we could do the whole works, including equipping the operating room, for $150,000."

In other words, this is not any grandiose scheme for putting up hospital centers that cost $10,000,000 apiece. In these areas, in a great many cases we could put up a fairly adequate building for $150,000.

Q. How many beds?

THE PRESIDENT: About a hundred beds.

Q. A hundred beds total in both wings?

THE PRESIDENT: Total, yes.

Q. As I remember it, the A.M.A. (American Medical Association) Committee particularly criticized the proposal to build hospitals, saying that we have enough hospitals and that we had better use those hospitals we have.

THE PRESIDENT: I think they were talking about some of the great centers when they said that. In other words, they would not say it themselves in these localities that have no hospitals. I think the statement that they made was probably true in relation to some of the great cities of the country.

Q. One sound point that the A.M.A. has made consistently is that they would like to have the operation of the hospitals left in private hands rather than in Governmental hands. Your plan would comply with that?

THE PRESIDENT: In other words, it would be the people in the locality.

Q. In introducing this subject, you spoke of the old P.W.A. ratio of 45-55 as a precedent. I imagine—

THE PRESIDENT: [interposing] No, no; that is gone. For this thing it would be 100 per cent by the Federal Government but, of course, a fairly large proportion of that 100 per cent would be covered by the W.P.A. relief workers' appropriation.

Q. Have you reached any estimate as to how much might be used in the first year under such a program?

THE PRESIDENT: No, we have not got as far as that. It would not be a very large sum.

Q. This looks like a natural for the log-rollers on the Hill. How would you hold that down?

THE PRESIDENT: (laughing) I think you are right and, therefore, the idea is this: Of course, if Congress wants to do it they have a perfect right to do it, but the objective is to find out the fifty areas in the United States that most need hospital facilities. Now, if Congress wants to specify those fifty areas it would take a long time to study it out—of course, it is all right. However, the practical way is to appoint a committee of distinguished doctors, rather than Congressmen, to determine which are the most necessary fifty localities to put fifty buildings in.

Q. What in case these local people cannot support it?

THE PRESIDENT: That is what we want to find out.

Q. Suppose it couldn't?

THE PRESIDENT: The idea is that no hospital would be built until some expert committee of doctors and hospital managers and Public Health people is satisfied that the community could and would support it.

Q. No liens at all? The title, free, goes from the Federal Government?

THE PRESIDENT: It is up to the Federal Government to keep the title to it.

Q. Would not that penalize the communities which do build their own? Would any community build its own?

THE PRESIDENT: I am talking about the communities that haven't got any at all—no hospital at all. This northern area that I am talking about has six hospitals, and if it wants a seventh hospital, it has enough money to build it and pay for it itself.

Just the same thing as talking of matching on the question of education. The States of New York, Massachusetts and Illinois ought not to have any aid from the Federal Government for schools but Georgia and Mississippi and Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas, I think, need some aid because they have not the realty values down there to build schools and run them. You take the State of Georgia—some of you were down with me this year. You remember the Atlanta papers? There were great headlines every morning: "State Schools Will Probably Close Down the First of January." This information was given to me when we were down there. They have kept open through December because the Governor borrowed $400,000, I think, from the State highway fund. There is your problem. We rich people up here do not visualize it.

Q. A group of newspapers in Cleveland, with the cooperation of the Police Department, has organized what they call, an "Industrial Safety Council" for the prevention of sabotage. They say this is being done with the encouragement of the Federal Government through Naval Intelligence. It has aroused a great deal of opposition from labor, which thinks this is a move for labor espionage. Will you say what the policy is?

THE PRESIDENT: I never heard of the particular thing. Of course the policy is a very simple one. What is labor going to do if in a plant employing 10,000 people there are ten potential-what do they call them?—saboteurs? Now, there is no attack on those 10,000 people employed there, but it is very distinctly the duty of the Federal Government to ferret out these potential saboteurs. That is just plain common sense.

Q. It is necessary to have the industries themselves work with the cooperation of the local authorities?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sure; and labor. Heavens, the other 9,990 people have a duty as employees to help the Government find the ten.

Q. Mr. President, will you discuss this Ohio soup kitchen proposal?

THE PRESIDENT: I do not think there is anything to discuss, If and when any city finds itself with a lot of people who are starving and it is proved to the Federal Government, the Federal Government will try to do what it has said right along it would do, and that is to keep people from starving. The obvious way of doing that is to do it the way we operate during a flood disaster or an earthquake or something like that. We use the Red Cross, we use the W.P.A., we use the non-military part of the Army, which means camp kitchens that are drawn upon in any disaster.

Q. 'The Federal Government would not move in that area voluntarily? You would have to be informed by the Governor of the State? Is that clear to you?

THE PRESIDENT: No. If there are a lot of starving people and it is proved, there is no question of the Governor or anybody else. We will just carry out the policy of the Federal Government.

Q. Have you seen any such proof from Ohio as this?

THE PRESIDENT: No. That is merely a restatement of what we have been saying for the last seven years. . . .

Q. Several weeks ago a reporter asked you if Mr. Garner's candidacy made any difference in your plans. In view of the statement made yesterday by Secretary Ickes and the Attorney General regarding Progressive-Liberal coalitions, is there anything you can say today?

THE PRESIDENT: The easiest way to put it is—please excuse the language and do not quote it— I am too damned busy [laughter], literally, to be talking about potential events a long, long way off. I have other things I think are more important for the Nation at the present time, foreign affairs and certain domestic issues which are right to the core.

In other words, I fortunately have, as some of you have been kind enough to intimate, two things, a sense of proportion and a sense of timing. (Laughter)

Q. You sat up all night on that one.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Laughter)

MR. GODWIN: Thank you, Mr. President.

Q. Merry Christmas!

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes; I forgot. A Merry Christmas to you all!

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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