Radio Address to the Nation on Economic and Fair Housing Issues

July 9, 1983

My fellow Americans:

In recent weeks, even the gloomiest critics have had trouble denying that things are getting better for you and your families. The number of people working is up 1.1 million from last December. Unemployment remains too high, but it's coming down -- 9.8 percent in June, as announced yesterday.

We're seeing strong economic growth, and we're seeing it while inflation is at its lowest level in a decade -- 3\1/2\ percent over the last year. This sharply lower inflation and the first decent tax cut since the 1960's are allowing families to keep more of their own earnings to spend or save.

Contrary to propaganda blasts you hear, America is heading in a better direction today than before. For example, thanks to the tax cuts and our progress against inflation, a medium-income family earning $25,000 has nearly $600 more in purchasing power today than in 1980. Low-income families are being helped, too. Nothing was more cruel for them than those back-to-back years of double-digit inflation -- before we got here, I hasten to add. If your family was on a fixed income of $10,000 at the start of 1979, that income was worth less than $8,000 by the end of 1980. In other words, inflation, which for years had been part of deliberate government economic planning, robbed you of $2,000. Now, that's not my idea of fairness, and I doubt if it's yours. If you tried to save a dollar at your bank during that same period, it would have lost 20 cents in value.

Well, we haven't abolished inflation or high taxes, but we're gaining on them. Your after-tax purchasing power helps determine your economic well-being. But this fact is ignored by the big spenders who claim to carry the banner of fairness and compassion. According to them, the whole issue of fairness revolves around government spending programs. And even on government spending, some of them have been misleading you. You've been led to believe that any budget savings in these programs would hurt the needy, and that's not true.

The problem we set out to solve back when we inherited those record inflation and interest rates was not government doing too much for the needy, but government doing too much for the nonneedy. Before our budget reforms were passed, surveys indicated that 2 out of every 5 dollars in benefits went to those with total incomes and benefits well above the poverty line. Also, some of the programs to help the poor had the effect of keeping them poor and dependent, robbing them of their self-respect.

America is a wealthy nation, but our wealth is not unlimited. So, we've tried to face up to the reality too many have ignored. Unless we prune nonessential programs, unless we end benefits for those who should not be subsidized by their fellow taxpayers, we won't have enough resources to meet the requirements of those who must have our help. And helping those who truly need assistance is what fairness in government spending should be all about. We're trying to do this. Let me give you one statistic I doubt you've ever heard.

Our budget request for 1984 would have the Federal Government spend, after inflation, two-and-a-half times what it spent in 1970 on assistance to the poor. So while, yes, there have been some cuts, they've been nowhere near as draconian as critics charge. Why haven't you had this information? Well, maybe one reason is the drumbeat of gloom and doom from misery merchants in some of the media.

One major newspaper recently ran an editorial entitled, ``Poorer, Hungrier.'' In 1979, according to this editorial, a team of doctors declared Federal food programs had eliminated most of the malnutrition in America. The editorial asked, ``What would they find today?'' Their answer, of course, was to say that under this administration things had worsened.

The truth is low-income Americans are receiving more food assistance in 1983 than ever before in history. During our administration, food assistance has grown by 34 percent. More people are being served and the grants for the neediest have been increased. We subsidize in whole or in part 95 million meals a day.

The average food stamp benefit, per person, has grown faster than the increase in food prices through inflation. The infant mortality rate has continued to decline. A greater percentage of school-lunch-program dollars are dedicated to providing meals for children of low-income families. Subsidies for meals served to children from low-income families have also increased in this administration.

Our administration is also distributing surplus cheese, butter, powdered milk, rice, flour, honey, and cornmeal to the needy and elderly. This is in addition to commodities regularly provided to schools and charitable institutions. The total comes to $1.7 billion so far.

Those budget reductions you've heard so much about have been achieved by improving efficiency, reducing dependency, cutting waste and abuse, and targeting on the neediest families. And that's as it should be. We're committed to fairness, and we'll continue to take actions needed to bring it about throughout our society.

Next week we'll be taking a new initiative to keep a pledge I made in my State of the Union address -- the pledge to strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws for all Americans. We believe in the bold promise that no person in the United States should be denied full freedom of choice in the selection of housing because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. We're proposing a series of amendments that will put real teeth into the Fair Housing Act.

For example, the Justice Department can now act on complaints only when there's reason to believe there exists a practice of discrimination. Under our proposal, if conciliation fails, Secretary Pierce at HUD could forward individual complaints to the Attorney General for litigation. We're also proposing to extend the current law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of handicap or size of family. And our proposal will create substantial civil penalties for landlords and others found violating the law. This will include stiff fines up to $50,000 for a first offense and $100,000 for a second offense.

We believe this is an important step for civil rights. For a family deprived of its freedom of choice in choosing a home, our proposal will mean swift action and strong civil penalties to prevent discrimination in the first place. As I said, we're committed to fairness and we're committed to use the full power of the Federal Government whenever and wherever even one person's constitutional rights are being unjustly denied.

Till next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.