Address to the Association of Counties

New Orleans, LA | July 20, 1966

One month ago when I was in Camp Gary I was talking with one of the Job Corps enrollees and I noticed the tattoo on his arm with the words "Born to Lose." Well, in the War on Poverty, we are working for the day when no American – black or white -- goes and gets tattooed on his arm "Born to Lose."

Today is just eight days short of being an anniversary. Last year, on July 28th, it was my job to address a conference of all the governors of all 50 States in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I can still remember walking into the Radisson Hotel there in Minneapolis. The U. S. House of Representatives had just passed an amendment to the anti-poverty program giving me -- a federal bureaucrat -- the power to over-ride the veto of every one of the men who would be sitting in that room. The atmosphere was hostile.

I did not and could not promise the governors that I would not utilize that power if it were given me by Congress. But I could say this:

That the issue is not and has never been one of power – of who had the last word.

The issue is one of cooperation, communication, and of democracy.

Since that time, there have been only 7 governor's vetoes -- and I have not overridden a single one.

I repeat this story today, almost one year later -- because the same is true of the role of county governments. There was a time -- not very long back when county officials protested they were being bypassed -- that they needed the veto in order to make sure that they would be involved.

They were not alone in complaining they were being bypassed:
Governors said they were being bypassed;
The poor said they were being bypassed;
School superintendents said they were being bypassed;
Private agencies said they were being bypassed;
Professional groups -- lawyers, social workers -- said they were being bypassed.

Nobody seemed to be in the War on Poverty because everybody was being by passed!

One year ago we meant it when we said: "Congress has instructed us to mobilize” all the resources of the country -- public and private both. We promised to do that. But we weren't believed.

One year ago we meant it when we said we wanted local control and local initiative. We promised local control but we weren't believed.

One year ago we meant it when we said we were not trying to instigate war on City Hall, or county court houses, or governors' offices. But we weren't believed.

But today the situation has changed:

Just two weeks ago, in Los Angeles, Governor Connally of Texas went on "Meet the Press" and made it clear that anybody who wanted to criticize the War on Poverty for by-passing State Government would find no takers in Texas. Governor Connally said, and I quote. "...the War against Poverty has been a tremendous success in all respects in Texas."

He wasn't the first governor to say that. Last Christmas Eve, in a news release from the Governor's Mansion in Arkansas, Governor Faubus said: "The War on Poverty in Arkansas has had the beneficial effect of a blue chip corporation with triple A credit rating, coming in our state."

Governor Faubus hasn't always felt that way about activities of the Federal Government. He even testified for OEO to the House of Representatives.

Or take the legal profession -- the organized Bar -- the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association. Every one of those groups endorsed the War on Poverty unanimously this past spring -- for the second year in a row. And they did it again without reservation a week ago testifying before the Senate Labor Committee. Yet, they were the very groups which -- the experts warned -- would make the Medicare battle look like a pillow fight if OEO dared to extend legal services to the poor.

Or take the mayors. Last year the U. S. Conference of Mayors held their meeting in St. Louis. The atmosphere was hostile and a group of Mayors constituted themselves as a special committee and drafted a report to the Vice President -- a report that was highly critical of the poverty program. This year when the Conference of Mayors met, they gave the war on poverty one of the strongest endorsement we have yet received. They passed a resolution urging Congress to increase our authorization by $250 million and when the Senate held Hearings on the poverty program, Mayor Lindsay of New York, who they tell me, is a Republican, gave his personal endorsement of OEO.

Or take the poor. We were accused by many of bypassing the very people we were supposed to help. There were those who said: We wouldn't practice what we preached. We didn't really want to listen to the voices of the poor.

In Laredo over 400 poor people -- American and Mexican-American descent people -- who work 12 to 14 hours for 3 to 4 dollars a day turned out to talk to me. In San Antonio, Texas, I personally visited three of the 42 Centers that have already provided 10,000 youths with training, with treatment and education of dope addiction, with jobs, with art instruction-and recreation.

In Watts, I talked with one of the young people who had been personally charged with starting the riots. In Delano, I talked with an eight year old boy. By 9 O'clock in the morning he had already worked three hours and he was stooped over a bag of potatoes that was almost as heavy as he was. He spent the day scratching those potatoes out of the ground with his bare hands. I asked him how much do you earn? And he told me 80 cents. I said 80 an hour and he looked at me as if I was making fun of him and Said "No, 80 cents, a day." The poor are being listened to -- they are not being bypassed.

In Washington, we have already held 3 meetings of a National Advisory Board made up one hundred percent of representatives of the poor. They don’t pull any punches when they come to Washington. As the expression goes "they tell it like it is." They come away knowing that the poor have spoken and that the Government of the United States of America has listened because it wants to listen. One Cherokee Indian put it this way: "My people walk around with a lost spirit look in their eyes. Now I can bring them hope."

And finally -- in the case of counties -- a recent poll taken jointly by the National Association of counties and the Advisory Commission on Inter-Governmental Relations (in the War against Poverty), 91 percent of the chief elected county officials interviewed ranked use of county government resources by community action agencies as either good or fair (59.8 percent thought it was good; 31.2 percent rated it fair.) Only nine percent of county officials felt that local community action agencies made poor use of county government resources. I hope these statistics reveal the truth. For the counties have no genuine reason to believe or fear that we want to bypass them.

The wheel has come full cycle. Our words -- our promises -- our assurances -- our pledges did not really get rid of the doubts last year but now, after 20 months, the facts have taken care of those fears far better than words. -- The record establishes three cardinal points -- beyond a reasonable doubt.

First, we do not intend - and have never intended - to replace local government and local control with federal control and federal dictatorship.

Our purpose is to strengthen local government by equipping a community with the resources, to realize its own needs, make its own decisions, and put those decisions into action.

That's not an easy policy to live with. We take the heat for local mistakes -mistakes which some of our critics say we should intervene to prevent.

But we say: We believe in democracy and in local government. We oppose the theory that the Great White Father in Washington, D. C. always knows best.

Second we do not intend to shut out public officials from our counsels. We have insisted that local community action agencies include representation from local government. And nearly every one of 950 CAP agencies do include representatives of local governments.

In addition, we have created a public officials advisory committee to advise OEO nationally. Five county officials serve on that committee and, in addition, the Executive Secretary of the National Association of Counties, Bernard F. Hillenbrand serves as an ex-officio member.

Third, our funding of private non-profit corporations to run community action programs does not indicate a lack of faith in the capacity of public institutions to wage the War on Poverty. Some of our local community action programs are run by public, governmental agencies. But many are not. That we believe is a choice to be made on the local level.

But, where the CAP is run by a, so-called private non-profit organization, that agency is private only in the narrowest, legalistic sense. In reality, it is a public body, directly accountable to the people with broad representation from the entire community. The Corporate Charter is a kind of constitution -- a compact through which the entire community pledges it self to cooperate in the pursuit of a common goal -- the elimination of poverty. All CAPs are, at bottom, public institutions accountable to the public. And that is why, regardless of whether the community action agency is run as a government agency or as a private non-profit corporation, it is not an attempt to undermine local democratic processes but rather to expand them, and include within them, persons heretofore alievated from our democratic life.

Fourth, we are not out to replace county programs or county institutions, or county government. We recognize that the county has always been the seat of many basic functions: -- education, welfare and health -- we realize that our 1.5 billion dollars is relatively insignificant compared with the federal, state, and local funds which are administered through the county government and county institutions.

We will not replace.

We will not supplant.

We will not undermine those institutions.

Our goal is to supplement, not to substitute.

Our hope is that our new resources, new ideas, and new techniques will have a catalytic impact.

That means getting local institutions and agencies to assign greater resources and a higher priority to the problems of the poor. And that is really happening.

It means getting each separate group and agency to talk to each other, to listen to each other and to coordinate their activities jointly.

It means getting both public and private agencies to listen to the voice of the consumer, in this case to the voice of the poor. It isn't only the automobile industry that needs a Ralph Nader. Some of our welfare, and education, and legal and medical programs have design defects, too.

It means getting existing institutions to try out new approaches – like using teacher aides, health aides and recreation aides to do jobs which it was once thought only professionals could do. And as you know, in some cases that means creating new Civil Service categories and eliminating existing obstacles to innovation and experimentation.

There are some who claim that county government can not meet this challenge. They say: county government is obsolete and moribund. And there are experts who have advised: Keep State and local government out of this War on Poverty. Some U. S. Congressmen openly prefer Congressional Action to Community Action. And some intellectuals like Michael Harrington in his book - The Other America - took the position that only the Federal Government could do the job -- and that State and local government was basically unresponsive to the needs of the poor.

But he -- and others -- underestimated the capacity of counties and the cities to respond, to innovate, to experiment. In the War on Poverty, that innovation has already taken at least three major forms.

First, individual counties have developed new institutions -- and designed and undertaken new programs on a county-wide basis.

Eugene Nickerson, who is a member of our Public Official Advisory Committee will tell you far better than I about the Public Protector Office he has established. But I do want, here, before this audience, to pay tribute to that inventiveness, and to the concern for the little man, the helpless man, the ordinary man -- which lie behind the formation in Nassau County of a kind of citizens complaint bureau. The only problem is: Nickerson now wants more money at the very time OEO is in danger of getting less.

There are other innovative county-wide programs undertaken with the cooperation and leadership of county officials.

  • Right here in Louisiana, in Acadania Neuf, the Welfare Department a transportation program so that families spread over a six parish area can get transportation to medical facilities concentrated in Lafayette. Regular routes have already been laid out. Nine station wagons, driven by persons now in poverty, will provide free transportation to families on public assistance.
  • In four different counties in North Carolina, (Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, Yancy) referred to as Wamy, there are countywide, anti-poverty programs run by the Public Health Service. Twenty-seven non-professional workers called "friendly home visitors" work out of the County Public Health Department under the supervision of six public health nurses.
  • These non-professionals don't just look at the physical health of the families they visit. They teach quilt making and sewing to the mothers, help the child get to school and stay in school, provide literacy training for parents -and now, have begun to establish multi-purpose neighborhood centers -- a ones top information and service facility. The first center was established in Yancy County -- in an old jail. That's visible progress.

  • Camden County, New Jersey has undertaken a major experiment in adult literacy -- which may have nationwide implications. County officials are trying to find out whether a high school graduate or a poor person can be as effective an adult literacy instructor as a trained professional accredited teacher. Initial reports indicate that if specially prepared materials are used, those with less training can be as effective -- and even more effective than the highly trained accredited teacher.

The second major form of innovation in which counties are experimenting is decentralization or -- "outreach" taking county services into communities and neighborhoods to make these services more accessible and effective.

In Denver County for instance, county health officials played a leading role in establishing a neighborhood health center. But with this experiment, the poor in Denver County will have a genuine family doctor available in the neighborhood. And the County Hospital will be freer to provide the intensive care and specialized treatment for which it is uniquely equipped. Long bus trips and even longer waiting periods will be cut out. And the medical treatment received by the poor will not be determined by the 'day or hour they arrived or by whether they are in the well-baby clinic or the sick-baby clinic, the pre-natal clinic, or the tuberculosis clinic.

The third major form of innovation by counties has been in the formation of multi-county programs and even regional programs. The upper peninsula in Michigan provides one of the most exciting and significant examples.

The Upper Peninsula Committee for Area Programs -- an outfit known as UPCAP -embraces 22 counties and six community action agencies.

UPCAP is the creation of county officials. It existed considerably before anybody even dreamed of a poverty program. But with the coming of the poverty program and the creation of several multi-county CAPS in the upper peninsula, the county officials voluntarily decided that it was time to broaden the base and function of UPCAP.

Some officials thought that was a surrender of power -- They had an organization completely dominated by county officials.

Why give an inch of that power, that control?

The answer is that it was in the best interest of the upper peninsula – and the answer has proven right over and over again.

UPCAP has the technical resources, the leverage, the broad base which no single county, no combination of two or three counties, and no community action agency has.

It has expertise. It has power -- county power - not black power. It has a scope of activity which goes beyond the Economic Opportunity Act – and beyond the problem of poverty.

A partial list of UPCAP's contribution would have to include

  • Securing an enormous inflow of funds ($42 million FY 65-66; only$8 million came from OEO) from the poverty program, HEW, Labor, SBA, the Farmers Home Administration, because it had the stature, the scope, the technical resources, and the expertise needed to deal across the board;
  • Providing technical assistance to local community action programs -in setting up programs, in making applications for new programs;
  • Improving coordination and relationships between local community action programs, the State Employment Service and County Welfare offices;
  • Administering a peninsula wide, massive EDA Program, a Legal Aid for Indigent Program, an OJT Program and an extensive NYC Program;
  • Assisted local communities in setting up individual programs. Among these are eleven SBDC's in covering 11 of the 15 counties.
  • A Dental Program covering two counties in which the County Health Department, the local Dental Association and the Community Action Program are all cooperating;
  • An Adult High School Diploma Program, which has pulled in the school districts, the county superintendents, and the community action agency.

And in specific cases, individuals working out of area offices of UPCAP have spotted families and individuals in need of help:

  • Like the family with four children living alone and deserted while their mother was hospitalized. The area representative just went and lived with the children until she could contact the County Welfare Department.
  • Or the ex-bull dozer operator and road contractor who was out of work and heading toward chronic alcoholism. UPCAP contacted the Farmers Home Administration which loaned him money to open an upholstery shop that enables him to support his wife and children. And he's now "on the wagon".
  • Or the commercial fisherman who was only sporadically employed. An SBDC loan enabled him to purchase a boat and net -- and he in turn is doing so well that he can employ additional help.

In effect, by combining, UPCAP has reversed the age old maxim: "Them What has, gets." UPCAP has redressed the balance of expertise and power and know-how that gives big cities the advantage over rural areas.

Yet UPCAP just represents one end of a continuum that starts with the smallest unit of all -- the individual -- and moves from there to the neighborhood, the small town, the rural hamlet, across community lines and even county lines.

There are no limits to the role counties can play in the War Against Poverty. We have set no limits and we will set no limits on that role. We only ask of you that you set no limits on it either -- because we need your full and total participation.

You still are the basic unit for the provision of services -- the most fundamental services. You are the basic unit for data collection. And you are also the basic unit of organization for many private agencies which you help to support like health and welfare councils, homemaker services, hospitals, agencies for the handicapped.

The poverty program is based on an assumption of the continued vitality of all county agencies:

  • The Planning Commission,
  • The Health Department,
  • The Housing Authority,
  • Probation Department, prisons,
  • Home for the Aged, Children's Services,
  • Surplus Food,
  • Veteran's Affairs, Library Services,
  • Agricultural Extension Services,
  • Public Defender.

There is no question of cutting you out -- or leaving you standing on the side lines. That would be inconceivable, and self-defeating.

I remember last year when we first launched "Head Start", we wrote letters to 300 counties, asking them to participate. We got back only 100 replies. Then we asked NACO to help out. Within a few weeks, we had replies from all but 15 counties.

From the actual delivery of services on a door-to-door basis to the highest national policy formation, counties have a central role to play.

Five county officials are members of our public officials advisory committee. And they are not there simply as lobbyists for county government. They speak -- and have spoken as dedicated men of public service.

We need them. We need you. Not just because you are powerful, not just because you have essential resources, not just because you have a vast supply of talent and experience.

We need you above all because we are trying to build a new sense of community -- one that is not based on class lines, or race lines, or religious lines -- or even on geographic lines. But rather a new sense of community that bridges rich and poor alike. You all read in the news paper on July 21 how Richard Speck, the man charged with the murder of eight nurses in Chicago, was recognized and apprehended because the doctor saw tattooed on his arm the phrase "Born to Raise Hell." One month ago when I was in Camp Gary I was talking with one of the Job Corps enrollees and I noticed the tattoo on his arm with the words "Born to Lose." Well, in the War on Poverty, we are working for the day when no American – black or white -- goes and gets tattooed on his arm "Born to Raise Hell" or "Born to Lose."