Jimmy Carter photo

St. Petersburg, Florida Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting With Senior Citizens.

October 10, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Senator Chiles, Governor Bob Graham, Senator Claude Pepper, distinguished friends of mine representing the tens of thousands of retired Americans who live in this great State of Florida:

I think you all realize that today is Senior Citizens Day throughout the Nation. Vice President Mondale is at a senior citizens event in New York. My son Chip is doing a similar event in Los Angeles. My wife is with senior citizens groups every day of the year. And of course, my mother, if her hip wasn't recently broken, would be out with a senior citizens group somewhere, also. So, our family, including Claude Pepper and Lawton Chiles, are part of your group almost every day of the year, and we're glad to be with you.


Four years ago, I pledged as I traveled through Florida that one of the top priorities of my own administration would be the preservation of the integrity of the social security system, because then, everywhere I went, the senior citizens knew that the biggest threat to your lives and to your security was the impending or threatened bankruptcy of the social security system. I can tell you today, as President, that with the help of these two fine chairmen of the committees in the House and Senate, we have kept the social security system sound. And it's going to stay sound and solvent as long as we have got a Democrat in the White House, and you can depend on it.

I'd like to point out to you that America is growing older. The average age is increasing, because of better health care, because of better security, and because we have become so deeply aware of the value of the lives of Americans who are sometimes called "retired." The precious life of those who have reached an age, 65 or 70 or 75 or 80—my mother is 82—has got to be recognized by all those in public office and all the other citizens of our country, because the value of contribution that can be of benefit to our country with that deep involvement in improving America is something we should never overlook. I want you to have vital, fruitful, active lives, as well as secure lives, with good medical care and attention and the proper respect which your great contribution deserves.

When I got to the White House, there was a broad agenda of things that Claude Pepper and Lawton Chiles and others presented to me and which my mother kept ever vivid in my mind, and my wife and others. As you know, there was a mandatory retirement age in this country, sometimes 60, sometimes 65. For most people the mandatory retirement age has been completely eliminated, and for some still in the private sector it's been raised to 70.

We've provided extra help for housing for the elderly. In the brief 3 1/2 years that I've been in office, we have doubled Federal contributions for housing. We have doubled Federal contributions for nutrition programs for the elderly, particularly the Meals on Wheels. We've seen a Comprehensive Older Americans Act of 1978, landmark legislation putting together greatly improved services in socials housing, employment, nutrition for the elderly.

Most important of all, we have protected senior citizens from the ravages of inflation. Recently I fought for—shoulder to shoulder with Senator Chiles, Congressman Pepper, and others—a 14.2 percent increase in social security payments so that inflationary burdens would not fall on your shoulders. And we're going to keep that social security system improved every time inflation goes up so that your buying dollar will stay sound, just like the system itself is going to stay sound.

Another problem that was presented to me was that for many people the outside earnings were too low, and with the help of this fine delegation here, we've raised that, as you know, from $3,200 to $5,000. That helps you, and it also helps America.

The last thing I'd like to say is that this election, which will come up now in less than 4 weeks, could be the most important decision that you ever make in your lives in politics.

I grew up as a young man during the Depression years. I remember a Democratic administration under Franklin D. Roosevelt that said, "We have got to have security for the older people of our Nation," and he put forward the concept of social security. Democrats worked hard for it; the Republicans were against it. Later, a Democratic President said, "We need Medicare to help the senior citizens of our Nation stay in good health. The Republicans opposed it.

My opponent, who's running for President now, Governor Ronald Reagan, took a nationwide tour as the leader against Medicare. On four different occasions, at least, he has advocated that the social security system be made voluntary. That means that anyone who wants to withdraw from social security can do so. As all of you know, that would cripple and destroy the social security system. These attitudes, expressed publicly and repeatedly by the man running against me as a Republican, are of great importance to every one of you.

Democrats have always been concerned about those who had to work for a living. I remember as a young man the proposal, which Claude Pepper and I were discussing on the way here from the airport, to set up a 25-cent minimum wage, 25 cents an hour. The Democrats were for it; the Republicans against it. I got my first job as a high school graduate at 40 cents an hour, which was the minimum wage then. The Democrats were for that increase in minimum wage; the Republicans were against it. That has not changed. My opponent seeking the Presidency this year has said that the minimum wage has caused more suffering than anything since the Great Depression. To pay working people a fair wage for what they do is an important aspect of American life.

A lot is at stake. And I ask you, as we go through this question period this morning, to keep in the back of your mind, in fact in the forefront of your mind and in the bottom of your heart the deep concerns that can be imposed on this Nation depending upon the outcome of the election on November the 4th.

There are many other things that I could mention to you that we have accomplished in the last 3 1/2 years. We've got a lot to do in the next 4 years. But I want to be sure that you and I are partners, working with Claude Pepper, working with Lawton Chiles, working with Bob Graham, working with the broad range of senior citizens organizations. The leaders of almost every one have endorsed me for reelection, to make sure that this country has a brighter future for all Americans and particularly those of you who've already contributed so much to this country and have so much to give in the years ahead.

And now I'd be glad to answer your questions. God bless all of you.



Q. Mr. President, my name is George Hernandez, from St. Petersburg, and I'd like to ask you, what have you done for veterans?

THE PRESIDENT. All right, sir.

What we've done since I've been in office is that for the first time in the history of our Nation, we have had an increase every year in veterans payments to make sure that you, as a veteran, are compensated for the increase in the cost of things that you have to buy with your pension funds.

We've also had a substantial increase in the quality of medical care for veterans since I have been in office. We've opened up centers around the Nation, under the leadership of Max Cleland, a veteran of the Vietnam war, to make sure that those younger veterans who have mental problems derived from war and combat had a chance to be rehabilitated.

And we've had enormous numbers, hundreds of thousands of new jobs made available for those who are veterans. We've tried to eliminate discrimination against veterans and to revitalize the veterans programs, not only in education, employment, and housing and medical care but in the status of veterans in our society.

This has never been done before, to have an annual increase every year to make sure that veterans did not suffer from the additional burdens of inflation. My intention is to continue doing this as long as I'm in the White House.

Thank you, sir.



Q. Mr. President?


Q. I'm very pleased to have you here.


Q. [Inaudible]

THE PRESIDENT. I want to hear about it.

Q. That's what I'm here for. My name is Joseph P. Carroll. I'm from Connecticut, and I live here. But what I want to say is this. Recently we had a 14.3 increase, and then later on, right away, you turned around and increased what I have to pay for Medicare. I don't think that's right. I think something should be done about that, because a lot of people cannot afford it—[inaudible]—a couple of hundred dollars or—[inaudible]. Is there something that could be done, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, sir, I believe so. I used to live in Connecticut myself. My youngest son was born there, and we have a lot in common there.

One thing that I'd like to point out is that, as your congressional delegation well knows, one of the continued attempts that I have put to the Congress has been to initiate hospital' cost containment legislation, to prevent the hospital costs from going up much more rapidly than the general inflation rate. We've been just on the verge of getting that bill passed. We have not yet got it through. We've also encouraged States individually to impose hospital cost containment within each State boundary. Some States have done an outstanding job in holding down those unwarranted, unnecessary, excessive increases in the cost of medical care.

My commitment to you and to this whole group and to the Nation is to pass national health insurance for a comprehensive program for the future to make sure that all citizens can have better health care at a reasonable price.

I might point out, since this is an election year, that Governor Reagan is strongly and consistently against any national health insurance program. This is a sharp difference that ought to be kept in the minds of voters who go to the polls on November the 4th.

So, the best way to hold down the cost of Medicare and other services that are important to senior citizens is to make sure that we have hospital cost containment passed and a national health insurance coverage that would be comprehensive in nature, emphasizing prevention of illness, caring for those quickly who need it, emphasizing outpatient care when the patient is able to stay out of a permanent incarceration in the hospital.

And also, one other aspect is to increase the competitive nature of the charges by doctors themselves. We have passed legislation, as you know, that has resulted in the lowered cost of eyeglasses, 20 to 40 percent, and we've also passed legislation that now lets doctors advertise as to whether or not they will treat Medicare patients.

So, those things put together, I believe, particularly national health insurance, will alleviate your problem in the future. Thank you, sir, very much.

Q. I lost 20 years.


Q. My name is Ann Kuzak, of Clearwater, Florida. What can you do to help speed up the compliance with section 504 of the vocational rehab act of 19737 And at this time, Federal offices like social security and Medicare do not provide all of the required services for the handicapped, in particular interpreters for the deaf.

THE PRESIDENT. Lawton, do you want to—


THE PRESIDENT. Ann, I'm very glad to have your question.

The section 504—I wasn't familiar with the number of the bill—but under both Joe Califano, who was a Secretary of HEW, and more recently under Patricia Harris, Secretary of Health and Human Services, we've made tremendous strides forward in having adequate programs for the handicapped. The legislation has been passed, as you know, and this was a major step forward. The problem now, as Lawton Chiles has just pointed out, is getting Congress adequately to fund these programs. And the fact that you have a good interpreter in front of you and we have another good interpreter up here in front of this crowd shows that the new attention given to the problems of the deaf and dumb and other handicapped are being addressed.

Another program that I have pursued personally as President is to make sure that the network television coverage has the subtitles available for the deaf so that you can understand at least key programs that are important for you to keep informed and also to be entertained.

I believe there's a new awareness in our Nation now of the problems of the handicapped. We're making good progress, and with adequate funding in future years by Congress, we'll meet those needs that you have outlined so well this morning.

Thank you, and may God be with you. Yes, sir.


Q. Mr. President, I have the honor to have the same name as yours; mine is Ted Carter, from Tampa, Florida. I also have a brother, Jimmy Carter, who is 20 minutes away from you.

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, really? I'm always glad to meet my cousins. It's a pleasure to be with you. [Laughter]

Q. I wanted to ask you whether or not any legislation is pending or if so, would you favor it, which could defer medical payments for the elderly?


Q. Right. Because when they reach that age, and all of a sudden their assets are gone, all their savings are gone and they're faced with additional medical payments which they have no way of earning the money, if it could be deferred say, until insurance payments were due, or something like that, upon death?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, sir. The national health insurance program that we advocate and I hope that the Congress will pass will indeed take care of that need that you've described. It'll be phased in year by year, and this is the best way, I believe, to get Senator Long and Senator Kennedy, on both extremes of the issue together moving forward. Senator Ribicoif has also been a strong proponent of this kind of insurance program.

We'll start out with hospital cost containment and catastrophic insurance to make sure that if a health bill, hospitals or doctors, is too high for a particular family's income that the Federal Government would take care of that bill in the very early stages of the national health insurance program being implemented nationwide.

The additional emphasis would be on the prevention of illness for people for all ages. The third thing would be to emphasize outpatient care, rather than inpatient care in the hospitals, to hold down the total cost of the program and also the total bills given to those who might be sick. And the other thing that I'd like to mention is a special emphasis on mothers and tiny children, even the mother before the child is born, and then year by year the coverage for children who are a little bit older would be expanded. But the first and earliest part of it would be to take care of those catastrophic illness bills that are above and beyond the family's ability to pay.

I think we have a good chance to pass this legislation if I'm reelected.

Q. Thank you, sir.



Q. Good morning, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning.

Q. We're glad to have you here today. I am George—[inaudible]—from—[inaudible]—Florida. We have had bad leases on our 274 condominium building units. We have to pay land and recreation leases, also property taxes on both, plus escalation on both places, and upkeep on the recreation building and the pool area. [Inaudible] On account of this, I had to sell—[inaudible]. What can you do to get rid of this burden?

THE PRESIDENT. I am glad you asked that question.

When I campaigned through Florida in 1975 and 1976, everywhere I went in the condominium areas, people told me that these unconscionable so-called recreation leases were robbing them by increasing the cost every year above and beyond what they ever anticipated when they bought or began payments on the condominium.

Just this past week, I finally signed into law a bill that will give you relief. It lets any condominium leaseholder who's subject to that abuse concerning recreation now go to the Federal courts and get relief that was not available before. Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham, Claude Pepper, every Member of the Florida delegation was in there fighting alongside me to get this bill passed through the Congress. There was a lot of opposition to it, because the real estate lobby and other people in the Nation don't feel the need for this, of course, as much as the people in Florida.

But now you do have relief, and I think a few test cases by leaseholders, like you perhaps, in the Federal courts will set landmark decisions that will relieve the the leaseholders now of being abused in the future. So, finally, after 3 years, we got your legislation through the Congress, and you do have relief now under the law. The next steps will be much easier.

If you hadn't asked me that question, I was going to point that out before I left here, because it's very important.

Q. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, ma'am.


Q. Mr. President, we welcome you to St. Petersburg, and I'm so happy to see you. We admire you, and we think you've been a marvelous President in the last 4 years.

THE PRESIDENT. That's a beautiful question. Thank you very much.

Q. I'm Mrs. Fred Peters; we're from St. Petersburg. My question is: Have you received any support from Senator Kennedy throughout your campaign, and if not, do you expect any in the next few weeks?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Senator Kennedy is working almost full time for me and my campaign. I'll be with him in New York shortly. He and I had a joint fundraising effort in Los Angeles earlier this month. He's campaigning for me in the New England States today, as a matter of fact. We'll have a joint fundraising effort in Washington, D.C., on the 19th of October, a major fundraising effort together in New York City again on the 20th of October. He will be campaigning for me in southern Texas and in California, hopefully perhaps in Florida to let people know that I have his unequivocal support.

He and I and my wife, Rosalynn, were together, as a matter of fact, earlier this week in, I think, Annandale, Virginia, where he and I signed—or I signed, he was there—the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 on which he and I have worked harmoniously.

I might add that it's very good for me to have Senator Kennedy on my side, working with me for victory in November, because he recognizes, as I do, that the few differences that we did emphasize during the spring period of the primaries are insignificant compared to the major differences that separate me and him on one side, from Ronald Reagan and his supporters on the other.

So, Kennedy is a strong supporter. He would tell you the same thing I've just told you then.

Q. Thank you.


Q. Mr. President, I'm Lillian Rauh, from Mandalay Shores, one of the senior citizens of the nonprofit co-op. We are the hardest hit by inflation and fixed income. Our members are too elderly to be forced into condominiums, and we would like to have ownership. And we need you to help us for a nonprofit co-op for our homes, of the HUD project. What can you do now, now to help us—now? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. All right. When? When?

Q. Now, now, now! [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Sometimes the Federal Government moves too slowly; I can't deny that.

It was only this week that many of the Florida delegation and I think about 20 senior citizens came up to be with me in the Rose Garden as I signed the housing and urban development act, the housing act of 1980. This act will provide the kind of assistance that you described, assistance by the Federal Government for senior citizens and others in making sure that you'll be able to buy homes, with subsidies for interest payments as those interest rates go up and down.

We also have increased enormously, by about 40 percent this year, the number of federally assisted housing units, both individual homes, condominiums, and rental units, that will be available in the future.

As Lawton knows, the holdup was in the Senate for a long time. The bill has now been passed, and you'll see the results of the bill in the very near future. As a matter of fact, you can see the results of the bill now.

Q. We have waited 14 months, though.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

I might say that, as the congressional leaders know, this has been a difficult year. I guess a Presidential election year always shows a much sharper partisan delay in legislation being passed than would ordinarily be the case. And my belief is that after this election is over, many of the things that are obviously of benefit to the Nation that have been held up by Republican leaders in the House and the Senate because of the contest that goes on, which is very good, will be passed either in the lameduck session after November 4th or early next year. I think we've got a good chance now to move on some of these major programs, so important to all of you, that have been delayed for the last few months.

Thank you very much. One more question, I think.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Orman Compton, and I am from—born in Tennessee, lived in Michigan all my life, retired to Florida 8 years ago. And we love it, we appreciate you coming here to Florida. I'll tell you, my question is this, but wait just a second. I want to thank you very kindly, because I happened to work in one of those big corporations in Detroit. You yourself okayed a certain loan. I'm 63 years old. If you hadn't okayed the loan, I'd be out here looking for a job. Your opponent, Mr. Reagan, in Detroit, in one of the factories, made a statement that he didn't see nothing wrong with a big company going bankrupt and if he was President, he would never have voted for this loan. So, praise the Lord for you, brother Carter.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, sir.

Q. And God bless you.


Q. My question is—I retired 8 years ago, and I'm on a fixed income. Now, what has happened, I'm on the same retirement—I retired—a little bit less—in '72, and this is '80. And the only thing about it, every year the prices keep agoin', and it's pretty hard for me to keep up with those prices. What are you going to do about inflation? I would like to know, please.


I might say that I appreciate your pointing out Governor Reagan's position on the Chrysler bankruptcy bill. He said at the time that bankruptcy might be advisable and that he would not bail out the Chrysler company. You've made a point that many people have forgotten. Not only would several hundred thousand workers have been out of jobs in our country, not only would the American automobile industry have been hit a major blow, but tens of thousands of retirees like you would have lost your income altogether.

And this is a case of a good investment, where the American Government said, "We're not going to give the taxpayers' money away, but we're going to back up the loan that Chrysler can get from banks, from insurance companies, and others." My guess is that we will not lose anything from the Federal Government Treasury. But we have Chrysler on its feet, kept American workers employed, and kept retirees like you from suffering the hardships of poverty and deprivation.

The biggest source of inflation in this country this year has been the enormous and unpredicted increase in the price of OPEC oil imposed on all the world last year. In 1 year alone, 1979, the price of oil increased more than the price had increased ever since oil was first discovered in the 1800's. Our country has tried to accommodate, along with nations all over the world, this enormous and serious blow to stability in the economic markets. We've done fairly well.

As you know, the inflation rate did go up, up until March, to 18 or 19 percent. We imposed some restraints on budgeting, on credit, and encouraged Americans to save more money out of what is earned, invest it back in our economic system. And also, we moved to stabilize interest rates. Every week after that, interest rates dropped about 1 percent per week, and the inflation rate went down so that in July we had a zero inflation rate, at least for that 1 month, the first time in 13 years. There is no doubt that the inflation rate is still too high.

But what we are doing now, along with other nations in the world, is to try to reduce our excessive dependence on imported oil. You have a major responsibility for the success that we have enjoyed. Today and every day in 1980, we are importing from overseas 2 million barrels less of oil than we did the first year I was in office. This is because we're conserving more oil and other energy, we're not wasting it as much, and we're increasing the production of energy of all kinds in our country.

There's no reason for us to be afraid about the future. All the OPEC Arab countries put together have about 6 percent of the energy reserves in the world. The United States by itself has 24 percent of all the energy reserves, and those reserves are in oil, natural gas, geothermal, coal, shale, tar sands. We've got rushing streams for hydroelectric power. We've got beautiful sunshine, as you know, for solar power.

And so, as we cut down on the buying of oil overseas, we also cut down on the importing of inflation and also the importing of unemployment.

The windfall profits tax, which we have imposed on the unearned income of the oil companies, is the key to the future stability of the energy program in our Nation. Part of that windfall profits tax, as you know, goes to make low-income payments to those of you who need to have help in paying your energy bills.

I might point out, since this is a political year, that Governor Reagan has advocated eliminating the Department of Energy, doing away with the legislation we've passed to set up this energy program. He'd like to do away with the windfall profits tax and, as he says, "unleash or let loose the oil companies and let them solve the energy problem for us." There's another example of how the elderly would be directly affected depending upon the outcome of the election this year.

It's very important that we take this Federal assistance for low-income families to help pay your energy bills and not do away with it by repealing the windfall profits tax, but let it be increased year by year as energy costs inevitably go up. I don't want to mislead you, Orman, because there's no way that I can see, in the future, that energy prices are going to go down. Oil will become more scarce, and I think the prices are going to go up. But what we'll have to do is continue on the program that we've finally got in place.

You might be interested in knowing, as proud and patriotic Americans, that this year we will have more oil and gas wells dug in the United States than any year in the history of our Nation, and you might be surprised to know that this year we'll produce more American coal than any year in history. And my hope is that soon, not too distant future, we will replace a major part of OPEC oil in the international energy trade with American coal. That's the kind of things that we can do to get that inflation rate down and hold it down.

And the last point is this: Now that we've got this energy legislation passed, it's time for us to revitalize American industry. One major factor in the inflation rate is how productive American workers are. The more American workers produce for the salaries they receive, the lower the inflation rate is. Right now the American workers are the most productive in the whole world. But what we need is new investments to make sure that American workers have modern tools and modern factories that they can use to be even more productive in the future.

So, high productivity, cutting down on imported oil, restraining the waste of energy, keeping the windfall tax on the books, helping you to have lower medical costs with a nationwide comprehensive national health insurance program, protecting Medicare, keeping social security sound, helping you with housing programs, protecting you from abuse of any kind, letting you work and have productive lives as long as you live, for the benefit of this Nation—those are the kinds of things that I'm committed to. If you help me, we'll do them together.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:04 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Princess Martha Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, St. Petersburg, Florida Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at a Town Meeting With Senior Citizens. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/250911

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