Franklin D. Roosevelt

Remarks to State Works Progress Administrators.

June 17, 1935

We are all engaged in a common task and I think we can be quite informal in talking about it. There are only one or two points I want to mention. The first, of course, relates to the broad objective, what might be called the main objective, of this program in which we are engaged. And it does not require very difficult arithmetic for the average layman to understand it.

We have to divide three and a half million men into four billion dollars. Almost anybody can understand that. In other words, Congress has given us four billion dollars. The objective is to put three and a half million men to work during the coming fiscal year.

That means a great many heartaches for people who have very expensive projects. They might just as well recognize that. You are going to have a great many difficulties and heartburnings because you will have to turn down a lot of splendid projects all over the United States. I assure you, however, that you are not going to have any more difficult time than I am having already from people all over the country who have projects that are very worthy—projects that just do not fall within the arithmetic of the situation.

Therefore, I feel it is incumbent on us not only to explain this problem of arithmetic to the people who have these projects but also to explain it to the people as a whole, in every State of the country, so that they will understand why it is necessary, in attaining this objective of ours, to say "No" to requests that do not fall within the arithmetic.

In other words, outside of a handful of what might be called strictly Federal projects such as the Bonneville and the Fort Peck Dams, the deepening of the Mississippi and the channel in the Upper Missouri, and a few others of that kind which total only a very small portion of the four billion dollars, practically all the rest of the money must be spent, on the average, at the rate of somewhere between eleven hundred dollars and twelve hundred dollars per man. This must of necessity include everything—not only the amount we pay the men themselves but also the amount we pay for the materials as well as the overhead.

That is your job and ours. I should say probably it was even more your job than ours, because each one of you knows the possibilities within your own State better than we can know them here in Washington. We must look to you and we are going to look to you for advice. The chances are we will take it. In regard to the spending of this allotted money, the responsibility is going to be very, very largely on you to see that the money goes around and accomplishes the objective given us as a mandate by the Congress of the United States—that is to put all the people on the relief rolls to work within the coming year.

We want to get rid of the dole. We believe that the dole is destructive of all that is best in our citizenship and we want to make people feel that they are no longer in the bread line—no longer getting things for nothing. We want them to feel that they are getting work, even though the amount they get in pay for their work is somewhat below, in most cases, what they would be able to earn in private jobs.

That brings up the second point. We want, in so far as possible, to have every relief administrator make every effort to get the unemployed into private industry, even if it means slowing down or stopping some of the jobs we have undertaken. We should not hesitate for one single moment to stop a certain number of projects if people are taken back into private industry. There will be a certain number of our works that can be closed down temporarily or stopped just where they are without very much loss. This whole thing will depend very largely upon the close cooperation with local authorities everywhere- Governors, mayors, county officials, and various State agencies. It is a Federal administrative program and, of course, the Federal Government is ultimately responsible. You are responsible because you represent the Federal Government; and yet at the same time we cannot conduct it successfully unless we get cooperation and joint effort on the part of all the localities.

The third point I 'make is that we have to be extremely careful not to make any kind of discrimination. We cannot discriminate in any of the work we are conducting either because of race or religion or politics. Politics, so far as we are concerned, is out. If anybody asks you to discriminate because of politics you can tell them that the President of the United States gave direct orders that there is not to be any such discrimination.

That applies both ways. It means, we cannot hurt our enemies or help our friends. We have to and will treat them all exactly alike. In carrying out this work, consider it purely and solely from a human point of view. Do everything you can to prevent the use of political considerations, one way or the other.

Finally, in regard to the projects themselves, we want them to be as useful as we can make them. We have all seen the work that was done in a very great hurry in the late fall and winter of 1933-34. Of course, a lot of that was thrown together. It was made work. It was invented work. A great many municipalities and counties had only a week or two weeks to decide what they had to do. They did the best they could. The extraordinary thing is that in view of the shortness of time so much of that work was actually useful. Today we have all that experience behind us.

This morning I saw a delegation from a certain State—Senators and Congressmen—who were most anxious to have a dam built. They said this dam had the approval of the Congressional Committees from six States. I said "Fine; what will be the cost per man employed?" There wasn't one of them who could answer that question. They were for the dam and it is a grand project. But actually the first year's work on the dam would cost, if done in the regular engineering way, about three thousand to thirty five hundred dollars per man employed. I said to this delegation: "I am all for this dam; I think it is a very important project on a very important river in the United States. It is going to prevent floods and so forth, but, in order to do it, I would have to increase the allotment to your particular State by ten or fifteen million dollars. Are you willing to ask me to take ten or fifteen million dollars away from the other forty-seven States of the Union and give it to your State?" They said: "No, we can't ask that."

That is a very simple answer to people who would ask you in your several States to exceed the allotment. We have only so much money and if anybody gets an excess allotment it means that the other fellow of necessity will have to pay the bill. That is why I stress the need of making clear to the people in your own States the common objective—the Congressional intent, your intent and mine—to put these unemployed to work during the coming year for a given sum of money. This sum is not elastic but definite, a fixed appropriation of the Congress.

We will give you 100 percent cooperation; and on your shoulders rests not only a great responsibility but also, I think, a very splendid opportunity to do a fine service for this country.

We all hope there is going to be a very definite and distinct pickup all over the United States. We are working slowly but very surely toward the elimination of the major unemployment problem we have had during these past few years. Of course, we always shall have a certain number of unemployed with us, but nothing like the present scale, we hope. And, this year, I believe, is going to be the beginning of the picking up of the greater part of this unemployment slack from which we have been suffering.

It is very fine to see you. Bless you all. I hope you go to it, with your coats off, and that the dirt will begin to fly very soon.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Remarks to State Works Progress Administrators. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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