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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 9, 2002
President Outlines Principles for Public Service
Remarks by the President on the Citizen Service Act
10:43 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. I appreciate so very much your warm welcome. I am delighted to be here in Bridgeport, Connecticut. (Applause.) I want to spend some time with you today talking about the spirit of our country, the great American spirit which has been tested in recent times. But history will record that we've met the test. (Applause.)
I saw some of that spirit today in the South End Community Center. (Applause.) I met a fine executive director named Tony Tozzi, and thank you Tony for your hospitality. (Applause.) I saw members of AmeriCorps -- (applause) -- who were mentoring children. I saw members of the Senior Corps, the Foster Grandparent Program -- (applause) -- who, as opposed to kind of settling in, these Senior Corps members decided to continue to give something to our society. And many are giving the most important gift of all, and that is to teach a child how to read. I want to thank you. (Applause.)
I appreciate Catherine Milton, the vice president and executive director of Save the Children. Thank you very much, Katherine, for your focus. (Applause.)
I want to thank my friend, Steve Goldsmith, for taking on the important assignment of being the chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service. One of the things I feel very passionate about is our need to inspire the armies of compassion, which exist in neighborhoods all throughout America.
And you'll hear me talk a little later on about the need to fight evil by doing some good. And one of Steve's jobs is to help gather the spirit of America and channel it and focus it so everybody understands the American experience, the hope of America, belongs to them, no matter where they live or how they were raised. (Applause.)
I want to thank my friend, the Governor of Connecticut, Johnny Rowland, and the First Lady Patty Rowland, for being here as well. (Applause.) I want to thank Chris and Betsy Shays, the congressman and his wife from this district. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank two other members from the Connecticut congressional delegation, friends of mine, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons. Thank you all for being here. Thanks for coming. (Applause.)
You know, I can't imagine what went through the mind of the evil people when they attacked America. I'm trying to -- I've always tried to figure out who they thought they were attacking. You know, what were they thinking?
They must have thought that this nation had no character, that we were so materialistic and self-absorbed that we wouldn't act, that we might just -- all we'd do was sue them. (Laughter and applause.) They didn't understand the true character of the American country, the nation.
You see, we love freedom. We love the freedom to worship the way we see fit. We welcome all faiths in America, Christian faiths, Jewish faith, Muslim faith. We welcome faith. We believe in freedom to worship. We believe in freedom to speak out loud. We believe in freedom of the press.
We believe in free elections. We believe in the dignity and worth of every individual. That's what we believe. (Applause.)
And if somebody attacks those beliefs, we'll respond. That's the character of our country, is that when we believe something, we stand up for it. We are slow to anger but, when angered, watch out. (Applause.)
We also are -- we're a nation that does not seek revenge. That's not in the American character, as far as I'm concerned. We seek justice. We're a nation of justice. (Applause.)
This nation has also showed remarkable character in this way: we're patient, we're a patient nation and we're a disciplined and focused nation.
Americans understand that the new war of the 21st century, the struggle for civilization itself is going to take a while.
You know, we live in an age where things happen so quickly that one of my concerns after September the 11th was the farther we got away from September the 11th, the more our grief was behind us, that I thought the American people might forget that which is at stake. That's not the case -- much to the chagrin of the killers, who continue to want to bring harm to America.
Make no mistake about this, that we're in for the long pull because there are people who hate us. They hate what we stand for. And they're killers. They use killing to justify their beliefs. And I'm not going to let that stand. My job is to protect the American people. (Applause.) And our job is to stand strong so that our children and our children's children will know the freedoms that we knew growing up. That's what's at stake, my fellow Americans -- at least that's how I view it. And so long as I'm the President, that's going to be the view of this government. (Applause.)
In six short months we have made remarkable progress. We really have.
You know, I said early on, I said to the people you're either with us or you're against us. I said either you're standing with the United States of America in our quest and desire to protect freedom, or you're not. There is no middle ground. And I'm proud to report the coalition -- there has been a vast coalition of nations that have joined us, nations of all stripes, all who understand what's at stake.
I also said that if you harbor a terrorist and you feed one, you're just as guilty as the murderers who came to New York City and Washington, D.C. (Applause.) And as a result of a great United States military, and a military of many of our friends, we have liberated a country.
It's important for the young here to hear this. We didn't go into Afghanistan as conquerors. This great nation led a coalition of military folks to go into Afghanistan as liberators. It's hard for Americans to know and to believe, but many young girls were not allowed to go to school in Afghanistan because of the barbaric nature of the Taliban regime. But thanks to the United States, and thanks to our friends and allies, girls now go to school in Afghanistan, for which I am mighty proud. (Applause.)
That is the character of the American people. We're plenty tough when we need to be, and we'll remain tough. But we're also compassionate. We care deeply about our fellow citizens in this world. We care deeply about the plight of children, no matter where they may live. That's our nature.
And that's how I feel about it at home, too. I feel like out of this evil is going to come some incredible good. I believe -- I believe -- that out of this evil will come peace in regions of the world that we never dreamt would be peaceful.
It's not going to be easy, and we're going to have to lead. And we're going to have to be diligent and resist and fight terror wherever we find it. But we've got a good chance for long-lasting peace. And at home there is going to be some incredible good that comes out of this evil, because Americans have got great character. And Americans care for their neighbors in need. People say, what can I do to join the war against terror. And I said, love your neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself. (Applause.)
If you want to fight evil, find somebody to help. And I'm prepared to help you find somebody to help, if you want help. If you want to find a way to help your country, that's what I'm here to talk about.
There are all kinds of ways to help; don't get me wrong. I mean, you can go to your church or synagogue and mosque and help a lot. You can help a lot. You can help a program -- devise a program to feed the homeless, help put a program together that goes into some of the pockets of despair in America and spread love, one person at a time. That's what you can do to help.
Service and volunteerism are an integral part of the American character. DeToqueville discovered that years ago, and if he were to come back, he'd be just as proud of America now as he was then, when it came to the willingness of our citizens to serve each other.
You know, I have been so impressed by the living spirit in America. It's been unbelievable to see firsthand how alive this country has become, how focused our nation is on serving something greater than ourself. Perhaps it had to do with the vivid lesson of Flight 93. Here we are, we're a nation kind of moving along, we thought oceans would separate us from any threats. Kind of, you know, perhaps in a culture of self-absorption. And all of a sudden, people on an airplane called their loved ones, told them they loved them, said a prayer, and sacrificed to save somebody else's life.
To me, that was one of the most meaningful moments of September 11th and on. It spoke of a spirit that -- of America that recognizes there's something greater than ourselves, the need to serve our fellow mankind. These folks did it in the most courageous of ways. But we can do it in other ways as well here at home.
And so in my State of the Union or in my speech to the nation -- whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation -- (laughter and applause) -- I asked Americans to give 4,000 hours over the next -- over the rest of your life of service to America. That's what I asked. I said, 4,000 hours. Now, many of you already do that. So this is -- there you go -- this is a drop in the bucket for you. I understand that. But many Americans don't.
So 4,000 hours of service for the remainder of your life. I set that as a goal, and Americans are responding. Many have heard the call. And in order to channel that enthusiasm, we set up what's called the USA Freedom Corps. And inside the USA Freedom Corps, we're focused on three distinct areas. One, the Citizen Corps.
I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, yesterday heralding the Citizen Corps program. This is a chance for people to help the police, the fire fighters, the local emergency medical teams, to respond to any disaster that might occur. And if you're interested in helping the brave men and women of the police force or fire force or emergency medical teams in your community, join. Join the Citizen Corps. It is a way to help secure America and prepare America for a disaster if one should come.
And then, of course, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps are an integral part of the USA Freedom Corps. These are programs that recognize that in America, we can change our country one heart and one soul and one conscience at a time. You see, I used to like to say that government can hand out money, but what government cannot do is put hope in people's hearts. That requires a loving, hopeful person to do just that. And I view AmeriCorps and Senior Corps as ways to tap into the great talent and strength and compassion of America to help people in need.
And then we've got the Peace Corps, and the Peace Corps is a way for Americans to help teach the world about the universal values that we hold dear, the true nature of America, which sometimes is distorted around the world. People don't have the true picture of our country. And one way to make sure they do is to have compassionate citizens go into communities all around the world to teach -- to teach all kinds of things. But the most important lesson they teach is that we're a loving country, that we care deeply about the citizens of the world.
And so if you're interested in helping the country in those three areas, you can call 1-877-USA-CORPS. Pick up your phone and dial. (Laughter.) Or, if you're one of these high-tech souls, usafreedomcorps.gov. And you'll find a way to help the country. This will give you a chance to participate. And this is just one way, I emphasize.
It's one opportunity. And, by the way, through this web site, you'll find other programs in the communities in which you live that will provide an outlet for your energy and your compassion.
You need to know that there is a gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness that are taking place in the country. We've had 29,000 people requesting applications for the Peace Corps in six months. (Applause.) Applications to join AmeriCorps are up by more than 70 percent. (Applause.) Twenty-five thousand people have signed up for the Citizens Corps. In other words, Americans are responding. And for that, all of us are grateful.
And one of the things I'm going to talk about is how to expand America's service programs and how to make them better; and how to bring in new volunteers and, at the same time, make sure that which we're funding works, that we're actually meeting some goals.
I look forward to working with the Congress. I'm going to talk to the members who are traveling back with me to Washington, D.C. after these events, to talk about the reauthorization of these programs. The discussions are beginning to come up this week, so part of my speech is to lay the groundwork for how I think the reauthorization of these important federal initiatives proceed.
And one of the things is funding, of course. That's an important part of any process. And I've asked for $290 million in new funding for these programs for the year 2003. (Applause.) And it's to help meet these goals: 25,000 new, additional AmeriCorps members -- 25,000 more than we have now today all across the country; 100,000 new Senior Corps members. And 200,000 to 300,000 students in the federal work study program. That's what we're aiming at, that's the goal we've set. Some say it's too ambitious. Nothing is too ambitious for America, as far as I'm concerned. (Applause.)
And here are some ways we can help make the programs more effective. First, by removing barriers that discourage seniors from joining the Senior Corps. Now, remember, the Senior Corps has got programs within it like the Foster Grandparent program -- programs all aimed at using the talents of our seniors to help make citizens' lives better, where people are losing hope, where despair is too common and too prevalent.
Now, under the current law, volunteers cannot join some Senior Corps programs until they reach the age of 60. I think we need to lower it. (Applause.) And so I chose 55 -- my age. I guess I'm not eligible for Senior Corps, if they finally give me a chance to participate. (Applause.)
My mother is not going to believe I'm eligible for Senior Corps. (Laughter.) But if we can get this through the Congress, I will be.
We need to encourage programs to expand, to give people an outlet, a chance to participate. And we need to eliminate income tests that keep seniors out of the program. (Applause.) Believe this or not -- believe it or not -- some people are not allowed to participate in Senior Corps because they make too much money. That doesn't make any sense. And I'm confident that the congresspeople here recognize that we've got to make sure Senior Corps is open to as many people who are willing to put up their hand and say, I love America and I want to help. (Applause.)
Many seniors participate in AmeriCorps, and that's good. That's what we want. Under a new proposal that I'm making to Congress, seniors who join AmeriCorps should be able to earn what we call a Silver Scholarship. In other words, when you work for AmeriCorps you get a scholarship if you go on to college. A senior who has already been to college should be able to earn that same scholarship and donate that to a member of their family, if they so choose. (Applause.) It makes sense to have older Americans helping younger Americans, and at the same time helping their families as well. (Applause.)
I want to read this, by a girl named Nicole who works in Baltimore. She's an AmeriCorps member. Perhaps some of the AmeriCorps members will understand what she's saying when I read this to you: "None of it would have happened if I had not done AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps redirected my life forever. I know the direction my life is in, service to others, particularly the poor."
This is Nicole's reflection upon what it meant to work for AmeriCorps.
It is a beautiful spirit, an important spirit for America. And so we're trying to figure out ways to make sure that AmeriCorps is attractive to young -- to the Nicoles of the country. Right now, AmeriCorps members who complete a year of service receive an education award worth almost $4,700; $4,700 that will help them go to school. And that's good, it's really good.
Under the proposal I'm making is that that award ought to be tax exempt and the $4,700 ought to have a cost of living adjustment. (Applause.)
As well, we need to reform the federal work study programs. These are programs which encourage students to work off their federal loans. It makes sense if you borrow money, that you ought to work them off. And the fundamental question is, how do we let them work it off?
Right now, 7 percent -- only 7 percent of the work study funds are required to be devoted to students who tutor, mentor, or perform other forms of service in their community, 7 percent. And so we think that we ought to raise that number to 50 percent. (Applause.) To say that we recognize that an incredibly valuable contribution to our society is to allow 50 percent of the students to work off their federal loans by mentoring, by tutoring, by becoming involved in community programs which change America one person, one soul, one conscience at a time. (Applause.)
One of the things we hear is that governors and mayors and local authorities are frustrated by the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. I understand. I've been there, myself. I have been frustrated, when I was the governor of Texas, with the bureaucracy in Washington. Goldsmith's job, as well as Les, the executive director, is to reduce the amount of bureaucracy and to trust the states and local authorities more, to give the states and local authorities more flexibility as we had to apply these monies to meeting the needs of the local folks. (Applause.) It is very important that Washington -- it's important that Washington provide flexibility in selecting the groups and charities in which AmeriCorps volunteers will be placed.
We've got to trust the local folks to understand local problems. You know, I like to tell people, not all the wisdom of the world is in Washington, D.C. (Laughter.)
But we also want to make sure people are held accountable. We want to make sure when we spend money, that it meets needs. And so Steve and the good folks at the Corporation for National Community Service are going to develop clear standards and reasonable measures of performance so that we know whether or not we're being successful. I think that's really important. I think that's what the American taxpayer expects. They expect results and I expect results.
And so if a program is failing, we ought to be willing to blow the whistle on failure, just for the good of the people. We're trying to help.
And when a program is successful, we ought to be praising the program and its success and the people who are helping.
It is important, as well, that we make sure that we create a new standard of accountability for service learning programs in America, too. The whole purpose of accountability in government is to make sure that we're succeeding. And in this case, we're aiming for a noble goal, and this is a hopeful America, a promising America; an America that says clearly to everybody, this wonderful experience and this great land belongs to you just as much as it belongs to somebody else.
I've come to talk a little bit about the character of the country, and it's a character being defined by the moment at hand. History will look back at us, generations will look back at us, and I believe they're going to say, thanks. Thanks to the people who stood strong when it came to defending freedom, thanks to those who sacrificed in our military. Thanks to the Congress for making sure the military had the resources necessary to take on a long struggle.
Listen, you've just go to know, there's no cave deep enough -- there's no cave deep enough -- for the long arm of American justice. (Applause.)
There is no calendar. There is no calendar on my desk that says, if we don't get -- if so-and-so doesn't show up, then this thing ends. That's just not the way I think. I'm a patient man, and so is the American people, much to the chagrin -- much to the chagrin of the enemy that still wants to take us on.
And we'll look back at the history of America, though -- I believe it's going to happen -- and say what a fantastic period of time it was for kids to grow up in our country: when we insist upon quality education for every child; where there was after school programs available manned by loving citizens who put their arm around those who might seem hopeless and say, I love you a lot, I love you a lot, and you're going to college.
This is a time when you're going to find, I believe, in American history where our government, instead of fearing faith and faith-based programs, welcomes faith and faith-based programs into the compassionate delivery -- (applause.)
This will be a time in American history when those of us in Washington, D.C., or in the state capitals, recognize that oftentimes the most hopeful and promising programs of help come from places of worship. It doesn't matter what the religion is; the people hear that universal call to love somebody just like they'd like to be loved themselves.
This is a period of time when America, instead of cowering in the face of terrorism, stood defiantly in the face of evil. When not only did we fight for freedom, but we promoted the peace. And this will be a time in history when our nation's compassion comes forth, where the collective face of America is a compassionate, joyous nation, that will not allow evil to prevail and, in turn, make sure our neighbors are loved, just like they'd like to be loved themselves.
You can understand why I'm optimistic about our country, because I am the President of the greatest nation on the face of the earth. Thank you for coming. May God bless. May God bless America. (Applause.)
END 11:15 A.M. EDT