THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 28, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY AND THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR DOMESTIC POLICY, BRUCE REED Wyndham Franklin Hotel Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: It looks like some of you are eating, some of you are writing, and we will brief briefly. And some of you are volunteering -- we appreciate that. I can do other subjects if you've got any interests in other subjects, but I wanted Bruce Reed to just go through some of the five different areas the President touched upon in his remarks. He already told you yesterday about the student loan interest forgiveness provision, but there are some other things that are reasonably new in his remarks this morning and we've got some paper out on them, and Bruce is here to enlighten you further.
The Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, Bruce Reed.
MR. REED: Thank you, Mike. Let me try to walk you through a couple of the policy ideas that the President put forward in this morning's speech.
First, the major announcement that he made was that we are going to award 50,000 new AmeriCorps scholarships over the next five years through a new approach that AmeriCorps has just begun pioneering in the last year or so, which gives the AmeriCorps scholarship to a nonprofit charity or religious organization, but expects that organization to pick up the living expenses of the volunteer.
The original AmeriCorps model and most of the AmeriCorps volunteers around the country get a college scholarship of $4,725 a year for each year of full-time service, and AmeriCorps also provides living expenses -- a living allowance of around $7,000, and some basic health coverage for the volunteers. Last year, AmeriCorps pioneered a new approach with the National Council of Churches in which the National Council of Churches agreed to pick up the living expenses of the volunteers and AmeriCorps provided just the scholarship.
This is a much cheaper way to deliver on the basic premise of AmeriCorps, which is to give young people the chance to serve and earn their way through college. And because it's about a third the cost of the traditional AmeriCorps approach, it will enable us to increase the size of AmeriCorps even more than we had hoped without costing any more money than we've put in our five-year budget plan.
The President also talked about an expansion of the police corps. Today we're awarding police corps grants to 17 states. The police corps was another campaign pledge from 1992. It passed as part of the 1994 crime bill. The first police corps grants went out last year. We're now going to be in 17 states, and this will triple the number of police corps recruits.
The police corps is an ROTC style program. Young people who agree to become police officers get four years college scholarship in return for four years of service as a police officer, and the police department that hires and trains them also gets some money to offset the hiring expense. This is an idea that was pioneered by Adam Wolinsky, a former aide to Senator Robert Kennedy, and the idea behind it is that not only does it promote service and give more people the chance to go to college, but it can help to transform policing and promote community policing in the country.
The President reiterated the idea that he talked about on Face the Nation of allowing young people to defer interest on their student loans if they agree to serve, as Reverend Tony Campolo from here in Philadelphia had suggested, and he also mentioned the importance of service by all young people, including younger kids in elementary, middle and high school.
Q How many AmeriCorps volunteers are there now, and how many of these police corps folks have gone through this?
MR. REED: Okay. AmeriCorps has 45,000 alums, 25,000 serving currently, and is projected to grow by about 25,000 a year. This new approach allows us to scale up that growth enough that by the end of the year 2000, as the President said in his speech, we will have had more -- given more people the chance to serve in AmeriCorps than have served in the entire history of the Peace Corps, and that number by the end of 2000 will be approximately 190,000.
The police corps is much smaller. It's a new program just started last year. I believe grants went out to about 200 last year and this -- today's announcement allows us to triple that to 672.
Q The President's juvenile crime bill that has been introduced in Congress asks for, among other things, $200 million for more juvenile prosecutors. I'm wondering how you square the priority in the juvenile crime bill with the goals of the summit, where you made very little new commitments.
MR. REED: Well, we've made a long commitment over the President's entire term to service and to helping youth, and he has a balanced approach to crime and to juvenile crime. His juvenile crime bill provides $50 million for after-school programs to keep schools open late, give young people a chance to stay off the streets and to be mentored or tutored in the way that was discussed at the summit.
The President also believes that it's important to prosecute violent juveniles for crimes they commit. Most of the crimes that juveniles commit are crimes against other juveniles. So we're not ashamed to be --
Q Can you tell me someplace where there are not enough juvenile prosecutors, where there's a shortage or something like that? That $200 million for prosecutors and there's not one place in this country that doesn't have enough prosecutors. And then when it comes to these after-school programs that are being highlighted here at the conference, the bill calls for $50 million, one-quarter -- and juvenile prosecution is a state function anyway.
MR. REED: Well, the juvenile justice system in this country is not in very good shape, sir, and the Clinton administration's philosophy is that with juvenile criminals, the most important thing is to make sure that there is certainty of punishment. It's not necessarily length of time that young people are incarcerated, but the fact that every young person knows that if they go bad, if they commit a crime, there will be consequences and that those consequences should be graduated and first-time offenders shouldn't be treated the same way as a 16-year-old murderer. But if you look out on the streets of this or any other city, crime is one of the worst things that's happening to young people.
Q Bruce, how many members of the Peace Corps have there been, and can you give us some cost figures on the expansion of AmeriCorps through the nonprofits and churches?
MR. REED: I think the Peace Corps has 144,000 alums right now, or returned volunteers. And there are 6,500 currently serving. As to the cost, as I said, because with this new approach the sponsoring organizations pick up the living expenses of the AmeriCorps members, we're able to provide a lot more AmeriCorps scholarships for the same amount of money that we already had budgeted.
Q Which is how much?
MR. REED: I think our annual budget request for AmeriCorps is about $600 million a year. That's our current --
Q Does that mean there will be actually fewer people going through the current, existing AmeriCorps program; the money is going to be diverted to these other organizations instead?
MR. REED: As the fact sheet points out, this will lead to a net increase of 33,000 AmeriCorps volunteers -- 50,000 going this new route, paid for by, about 17,000 fewer going the other route.
Q Bruce, if AmeriCorps pioneered this new approach last year, then what is new about the President's announcement today? It sounds like it's something that is already underway anyway.
MR. REED: It's underway on a small scale. Only 1,600 were awarded last year. I believe 1,750 have been awarded this year. But we think that this is a way to grow AmeriCorps over the long run, and we are announcing a dramatic increase in the level of this kind of award. And the President also wanted to make clear to this audience, which included a number of leaders of nonprofit organizations and a number of leaders of corporations, that this was a chance for them to team up, that not all the money to pay the living expenses of AmeriCorps members needs to come from Washington, but a business could sponsor an AmeriCorps member at a nonprofit, and we'd provide a scholarship.
Q Can you tell us what the average, or at least the typical living expenses would be for a year -- what the average or typical expenses, living expenses would be?
MR. REED: In the traditional AmeriCorps model, where AmeriCorps picks up the cost of living expenses, AmeriCorps pays 85 percent of an $8,000 living allowance. The sponsoring organization has to pick up the other 15 percent.
Q And now, under this program, this initiative --
MR. REED: Under this program, AmeriCorps would not pay a living expense, and the sponsoring organization would be expected to do so.
Q Can you give any examples of the kind of work we may be talking -- just kind of your prototype?
MR. REED: Yes. The National Council of Churches has AmeriCorps members doing child care and tutoring and mentoring. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America want to use this as part of their expansion of mentoring and -- but in theory, this approach could be used to advance all of the goals of the summit related to youth.
Q Couldn't someone then, a sponsoring organization get more people by not doing it that way and still paying the 15 percent and getting more AmeriCorps volunteers for themselves?
MR. REED: Say that again?
Q Instead of picking up the entire cost of living for their AmeriCorps volunteers, wouldn't it be much easier for them to get five volunteers and pay 15 percent for each one of them?
MR. REED: I think that AmeriCorps, under either approach, is a very good deal for sponsoring organizations as well as for the young people who agree to serve in it. Some organizations in some communities are just getting started, don't have the resources to take advantage of this new offer and provide the living expenses. Other more established nonprofit organizations are in a position to take advantage of this offer. And remember, there are many more applications for AmeriCorps memberships than we are able to provide. So this is a way for us to keep up with the rising demand.
Q Can you talk about why this additional incentive? Because theoretically, people could go and work for Boys and Girls Club without this incentive, because so much of the summit seems to be about convincing people to volunteer out of the bottom of their hearts, and I'm wondering why you've decided to come in with financial --
MR. REED: As the President pointed out in his speech, we applaud all of the volunteers across America, but we also believe that there is an important role for full-time service, and that we want to do everything we can to make sure that there are people working full-time on the problems of the country, many of which are not part-time. Moreover, people who are doing full-time service, like AmeriCorps members, are in a position to put millions of other volunteers to work. As the President said, a typical AmeriCorps member will train or recruit a dozen other volunteers, and point them in the right direction.
So it isn't a choice between volunteerism or service, but with an expansion of AmeriCorps, we can have more of both.
Q Bruce, is there any thinking in the administration of additional tax incentives, like to allow charitable donations by all taxpayers to be tax deductible? Would it give some additional tax breaks to nonprofits?
MR. REED: We haven't endorsed any of those ideas.
MR. MCCURRY: Any other subjects in the world?
Q About this standoff in Texas, is that something that you guys are keeping an eye on, and are there any plans for the Justice Department to get involved?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that there are federal law enforcement authorities monitoring the situation, working closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety. But it is a matter that's being handled by the local jurisdictions.
Q Mike, I understand that this is make it or break it week for Alexis Herman, one way or the other -- she could either have her day on the floor, or she could pull out of the process.
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not. She has no plans to pull out and it's not a make-or-break week. We're going to continue to work hard to try to resolve the impasse, but the impasse has nothing to do with a superbly qualified nominee for a department -- for Secretary of Labor. She's being held hostage right now by those who object to the President's legitimate use of his executive authority to make necessary changes in the way federal programs operate, and the President feels strongly about that authority. But we'll work with the senators who are concerned to try to resolve their concerns so she can move on to the confirmation that she should have already achieved.
Q If it's not make it or break it week for Alexis Herman, is it make it or break it week for the budget? That's the other --
MR. MCCURRY: The budget, as the President has already indicated, is already at a point where we are working seriously with senior budget leaders on the Republican side of the aisle. We want to make progress sooner rather than later, but that's not something we'd give up on if we don't make progress instantaneously. It's going to require a good-faith effort on all sides to get there. The President wants to get there sooner rather than later, but we'll just have to see what kind of flex there is in the positions the sides are taking.
Q MITI minister is meeting with Janet Yellin today. Do you know if he's meeting with any other administration officials?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I haven't heard about his schedule. I can check on that for you. I wouldn't be surprised if he's going to be at USTR and elsewhere, but I just don't know his schedule.
Q Mike, back to the budget. Will we be seeing more direct, more public presidential involvement in the next few days? For example, before he goes to the Mexico trip, does he want to get an agreement on this before Mexico happens?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President and other members of the bipartisan leadership team, those from Congress, will meet at an appropriate time. But they will meet upon recommendation of those that have been doing the budget discussions to date. I'm not aware of any recommendation now for a meeting involving the President, but the President, as he indicated yesterday, wants to get a balanced budget agreement. He would like to do that as soon as possible, and he has suggested doing it in a matter of days as opposed to a matter of weeks.
Q Is the Mexico trip, though, some sort of a timeline for him?
MR. MCCURRY: Not -- I mean, it is practically speaking because the President will spend some time out of the country and then we're back for a while and then we're out of the country again. And I think that members of Congress and members of the White House budget team are aware of that reality, he's going to be out of the country. But that's, again, not an artificial deadline that we have imposed, it just is the reality that to make progress -- they're at a point now where the talks are either going to be fruitful or they're not going to be fruitful, and we ought to know fairly soon.
Q What will determine that?
MR. MCCURRY: Whether they're getting closer to an agreement and bridging differences.
Q Mike, a couple of months ago you said that the President was willing to go as long as a year if need be for Alexis Herman. I mean, this thing is dragging out. I mean, he's still willing to wait as long as it takes?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got a great nominee who was unanimously approved by the committee, who should have been confirmed by now, and the only thing standing in the way is an unrelated issue. We're trying to resolve the unrelated issue.
Q Mike, over the weekend there was an article in The New York Times that talked about the U.S. considering curbs on Mexicans tied to narcotics. Can you comment on that story?
MR. MCCURRY: I looked at it and the limited I've been told about it is that just we are adamant about fighting drug-trafficking. We're working closely with the Mexican government on that. We do not lend any preferential treatment to any business ventures that derive from drug-trafficking and we will continue our close cooperation with the government of Mexico in fighting cross-border narco trafficking.
Q Is there any discussion within the administration to freeze assets of people who are actually related to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are discussions all the time within the administration about how to make the fight against drugs more effective, and nothing that I can report definitively at this point.
Q There's a story in The Washington Post today by John Harris that suggests very few people in the White House have the time or energy to commit to volunteering. Why is it not hypocritical to not practice what you preach?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are -- it's a half-full, half-empty glass, depending on how you look at it. There are a number of people who, given the very difficult work schedules that people have at the White House do commit themselves to volunteer service. Several examples were cited in the article. Anecdotally, there are a surprising number of White House aides who, despite the rigors of their schedule and the need to take care of their own families do devote a portion of their time to volunteer service.
I think it's less structured than maybe it could be, and the White House will consider some ways to putting a little more structure in the effort to encourage volunteerism. But I would take some issue with the article. I think a surprising number of people at the White House do respond and are involved. And in the course of trying to help The Washington Post on that story we actually found, anecdotally, a number of very inspiring examples of people, colleagues of ours on staff who do some extraordinary things.
Q Mike, can you give us any color at all about the President's talks with Ford, with Bush, with --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything specific. There's been a lot of bantering around back and forth, exchanging -- not only between the President, but between some of their staffers. I've heard anecdotally from some of our advance people that they are enjoying meeting some of the counterparts. There are a lot of, sort of, legendary Republican staff advance types who are here and there is a lot of fraternization like that going on.
The President has had a couple of opportunities now with President Bush, with General Powell, with President Ford to just exchange some reminiscences. I expect -- the President at the conclusion of the event this morning spent most of his time with members of the band. They all wanted to have things signed and wanted to talk with the President, so he was posing for pictures with them. I think he was really looking forward to spending more time with his predecessors over at this luncheon that they're going to now. If I get any more color, Peter, I can get some of that.
Q -- attendance there?
THE PRESS: I don't have a lot on the luncheon. I know they were getting the guest list together. Obviously, the luncheon was designed to mark the very significant commitments that have been made by the companies that are here. If you go through that list of corporate commitments it's very, very impressive and I think the President and the previous Presidents wanted to thank the corporate community for the very significant response they've given and encourage them to stay involved.
One point I expect the President to make here is that a form of service for a corporation is to be committed to helping people in the community who are making the transition from welfare to work. And he is going to suggest that part of what a corporate ethic of service and citizenship can include is to be a part of the welfare reform implementation.
Q What does -- the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense were the two that were mentioned yesterday as the initiators of this mentoring and tutoring and teaching and all. Why those two agencies, and why not others?
MR. MCCURRY: Defense particularly because they run such a broad program of activity involving families around the country, so they have expertise in things like day care. You will notice not too long ago, the President gave some instructions to the Defense Department to share their expertise on day care with private groups. It's in part because it's a department that's in the job of taking care of families. They have a great deal of focus on quality of life. They're dealing with people who, in many cases, are very low-paid, hourly wage earners, too, so that they're dealing with people who are lower income working folks. And they've got experience in taking care of communities.
Plus, they are also very active in various places where there are bases and installations. They tend to be active in communities with a lot of organized outreach effort that alleviates some of the impact that defense installations have on local communities. So there's a history there of involvement in community.
I haven't looked at the Transportation Department experience specifically. I suspect some of that is similarly because of Coast Guard. But there are probably other agencies that do work of that nature.
Q Can you give us a run down on the week, Mike? And is a meeting still possible tomorrow with the congressional leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any meeting tomorrow. I think the President's scheduled currently to have the day off. Wednesday afternoon, I expect he'll be seeing the Chinese Deputy Premier Foreign Minister Qian Qichen at some point. And I haven't looked at the balance of the week.
Q Mike, is it true that the President could be going to Tuskeegee for this apology to the Tuskeegee patients of that experiment?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything to that effect. They've been looking for a date to do it, but I believe they were looking for a date to it in Washington.
Okay. Thank you.
Q What did the President think of the gala last night?
MR. MCCURRY: He enjoyed parts of it. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:36 P.M. EDT