THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY FORMER PRESIDENT CARTER IN PRESS AVAILABILITY
The Briefing Room
3:30 P.M. EST
PRESIDENT CARTER: I don't have much to say this afternoon. I've got -- except I don't have Air Force One anymore. I've got to catch a Delta flight on time. (Laughter.)
I've come up this afternoon with Peter Ueberroth, who heads up Rebuild L.A.; and with Jim Rouse, who heads up the Enterprise Foundation, building an inner-city Sandtown in Baltimore. Also, with Chuck Hirsch, who heads up Michael Jackson's Heal the World, and the leader of the Points of Light Foundation and a group of private commitments to healing the inner-city problems in our country.
There's no doubt that the inner cities are going down the drain. The rate at which they're deteriorating is alarming to all of us.
What's happened since I left office is that now the private sector, the business community, the universities and others have realized how bad this crisis is. In Washington, D.C. in the last five years there's been a 750-percent increase in homicides among young people. In Atlanta, we have 17 times as many drug felonies among young people as we did five years ago. When I left office, we had 1,500 homeless people down in Atlanta; we now have 15,000 homeless people. It's getting bad so fast.
So what we've done is come up today to meet with President Clinton, with Vice President Gore and with the key Cabinet officers just to form a partnership with them in dealing with these inner-city crises. We've made it plain we're not asking for any increase in federal funding, we don't want to see any increase in the federal budget for our purposes. We just want to form a relationship that will be mutually supportive and will be effective.
We've got a lot of progress already made. We know, I believe, how to reverse this downward trend, and we want to add the federal government as a partner under the partners with us in this common effort. That's why we are up here today.
Q You can do this without money, Mr. President? I mean, without any federal funds?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Not without any federal funds, but without any increase in federal funds. We want to make sure that the funding and the programs that are already there in the Departments of Labor and Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education and so forth, are expended more effectively.
One problem is that there is very little, if any, cooperation among the federal agencies at the Atlanta level. We have 110 federal agencies in Atlanta who administer to the southeastern part of the United States. We want a directive from the President to combine those into a team to join with us in the Atlanta Project. So we're not asking for increases in federal funds, but we want to make the existing federal funds used more effectively.
Q There was some suggestion that you might be going to propose this as a model for national service programs to President Clinton. Have you done that, or was there any discussion --
PRESIDENT CARTER: Yes, we discussed that, among other things. Obviously, the new programs that President Clinton has proposed, including the national service, we are prepared in Atlanta, L.A., and Baltimore to take fullest advantage of that new opportunity. If we could say -- if there are 1,000 college students in the whole country that would be trying out this idea during the summer before legislation goes to the Congress in the fall, we think the Atlanta Project would be a very fine place to maybe allot 50 of those students just to see if it works well, and to make sure we get experience with it before the Congress has to consider the final legislation.
Q What was the President's response to your suggestions?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I'll let the President speak for himself. Some people used to let me speak for myself when I was here in the White House. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, what else specifically did you ask President Clinton to do? Appear with you in any forum?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Several of the Cabinet officers will come down to Atlanta -- obviously, some will be going to Los Angeles -- just to see firsthand what we are doing that is innovative and really unprecedented in turning over control of these programs to the people who actually live the inner city area.
In Atlanta we have 500,000 of the poorest people identified. We divide the up into 20 communities. And they are the ones that are actually running these programs. So that's one thing. The coordination of the local agencies in the Atlanta region, for instance, is one. And we also want a point of contact within the White House who would be particularly conversant with what we are doing. So the general consensus there was to send several of the Cabinet officers down to Atlanta and maybe some other cities to see what would be possible there.
We have -- or need to simplify forms. Dick Riley, Secretary of Education, announced on TV when he was -- last fall, I noticed, that the Medicaid form in South Carolina was 42 pages long. This is totally nonsensical because the forms have to filled out by semi-literate women who are head of a family -- some of them are illiterate. In addition to the Medicaid form, 40 pages, they also have a different form for Head Start, a different form for public housing, a different form for food stamps or for Women and Infant Children.
This is absolutely and totally an obstacle to many people just to get the programs to which they are entitled. That's the kind of thing we're asking for -- is a little bit of flexibility to try out new ways to qualify people for services and to have the services delivered.
Q Mr. President, what, if anything, can your project in an enhanced partnership with the federal government do to reduce the violent crime, the drive-by shootings and some of these other crimes that, as you know, plague the inner cities?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Well, we had the Attorney GeneralDesignate with us. One of the promising proposals that was made last year was the so-called Weed and Seed program. Our experience has been that the focal point of the crime among juveniles is quite often in the public housing projects, where drug pushers, pimps and others move in to homes -- apartments -- with the single parent which is ordinarily a mother. And they either bribe her with 200 bucks or they intimidate her and her children to let them use those public housing project units as a headquarters for distribution of drugs.
We're putting together in Atlanta a special program --we happen to have the new president of the American Bar Association from Atlanta, and the ABA is going to adopt Atlanta as a test case for the control of drugs and crime.
So working with the new Attorney General and with the local officers, this is one of the goals that we hope to accomplish.
Q Mr. President, would you characterize this administration -- how would you characterize this administration's response to your program, your concerns?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I think very eager. The week before the inauguration Al Gore called me and asked if I would arrange to bring a few people with us, which we did this afternoon, to meet with him and the new Cabinet officers as soon as it was convenient. And the convenience came after the economic speech by the President and after his Cabinet officers had to go out throughout the country to explain the program to the public. So this is a very eager receptivity here.
One of the things that we caution against is depending upon new programs and depending upon federal programs. What we want to do is to maybe get 20 percent of a particular commitment on crime control or housing renovation, that sort of thing, from federal programs already on the books and already financed and let us get the other 80 percent from other sources, from the private sector or from people who are going to move into the apartments themselves. This is what we habitually do. And that flexibility just does not exist to try out a new idea or to maybe turn over the ownership of a public housing apartment to the people who live there if they will renovate it themselves. We can get the money from the private sector, but quite often the federal government is an obstacle to this proposal.
One thing that we hope to have is what was bandied about with the words -- with enterprise zones. There needs to be some special tax incentives to businesses that want to provide jobs and want to make investments and want to write insurance policies and want to make loans to go into these abandoned neighborhoods. The schoolteachers don't live here and the policemen don't live here. The public service workers don't live here. They commute into these low-income areas and then leave at night and go back to their nice homes. So there are two Atlantas and two Washington, D.C.s and two L.A.s. We're trying to merge these with a predominant dependence on private commitments like those of mine now and the ones that I've described.
Maybe one more question and then I've got to go.
Q the necessity for aid to the inner cities in terms of national priorities, where does it rank vis a vis Bosnia and Somalia?
PRESIDENT CARTER: I don't think you can compare the two. I think as far as domestic problems are concerned, the number one crisis in our country is the extremely rapid deterioration of the quality of life of the people in our inner cities. The rate of destruction of their lives, the abandonment of hope, the increase in the crime rate, the increase in the drop-out rate, the failure to immunize these kids against basic diseases, the homelessness that does exist. The drug culture is growing so rapidly that we want to look the other way and not even acknowledge that it's there. I think that's the number one crisis for this country now.
Thank you. I've got to go. I've got to go.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:40 P.M. EST