New Deal Descendants write to President Biden regarding the Jobs for Economic Recovery Act, Civilian Climate Corps

Passage of JERA and creation of a CCC would embody the spirit of the original New Deal and usher in a 21st Century New Deal, say descendants

U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt sits at the head of a mess table for lunch at Camp Fechner in Big Meadows, Va., one of the five Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps that the president visited on Aug. 12, 1933. Seated with the president are, from left, Gen. Paul B. Malone; Col. Louis Howe; Secretary of the Interior Department Harold I. Ickes; Director of the Civilian Conservation Corps Robert Fechner; and Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace; and Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Rexford G. Tugwell. In the background are the young men employed in the CCC program initiated by the president as part of the New Deals Program during the Depression. (AP Photo)

Dear Mr. President:

We write, as the descendants of the men and women who designed the New Deal, to commend your focus on the urgency of big, bold action to create jobs to help America build back better. Specifically, we commend your Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, and we heartily recommend including the “Jobs for Economic Recovery Act” in the upcoming economic recovery package.

What President Franklin Roosevelt said, when taking office in the depths of the Great Depression, remains true today: “A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return.… Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.”

The concept of a Civilian Climate Corps, laid out in your January 27 executive order on climate, harkens back to one of the New Deal’s most successful jobs programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC gave jobs to some three million unemployed young people on projects like dams, phone lines, and irrigation. CCC workers planted millions of trees, built hundreds of trails, and constructed dozens of visitor facilities in parks.

We hope your modern-day version will add urban projects, such as building retrofits for energy efficiency, urban gardens and bike paths, and brownfield remediation, in addition to tackling the 21st Century climate challenges identified in your order, like carbon sequestration in soils and plants, and strengthening coastal and marine ecosystems. We commend your improving on the original CCC to include women and people of color. We recommend a focus on veterans and homeless unemployed, and an element of education and skills training. Many federal agencies can usefully partner in the new CCC, including Agriculture, Interior, Labor, Commerce, HUD, the VA, EPA, and perhaps the Army — which, in the original CCC, played an indispensable role in the logistics of organizing and running the 2500 work camps sprinkled in grateful communities all across America. And of course, the new CCC should rely on the expertise and infrastructure built in more recent years by AmeriCorps and the nation’s Corps Network of 130 service and conservation corps.

The “Jobs for Economic Recovery Act” — just reintroduced as S. 784 by Senators Ron Wyden, Tammy Baldwin, Chris Van Hollen, Michael Bennet, and Cory Booker, and whose prior House version has the support of Representatives Danny Davis and Gwen Moore — is boldly New Deal-ish in its potential to quickly get Americans back to work.

The legislation would enable unemployed Americans to work in wage-paying jobs, carrying out useful projects, until they can be absorbed in the recovering labor market. It gives the lead to states, tribes, and local governments in designing specific employment projects to meet the varied needs of a diverse country. Like the new CCC, it ensures that groups left behind by the New Deal’s jobs programs — Blacks, Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Island Americans, LGBTQ+ individuals, other minorities, women, and people with disabilities — will get their fair share of wage-paying jobs.

It also is careful not to infringe on the rights of workers and unions, or to displace current employees or spending. Rather, the “Jobs for Economic Recovery Act” will add hundreds of thousands of workers by creating new and useful jobs.

We believe that many of these jobs will advance your priorities on the environment, health, and infrastructure:

  • Your new CCC could be expanded with funds provided under the Act.
  • Public health initiatives, like contact tracing and removing the lead paint that primarily poisons Black, Hispanic, and low-income children, could be bolstered.
  • Major infrastructure projects, such as fixing decaying roads and expanding broadband in rural areas, could also be accelerated under the Act.

Americans want to support themselves and their families by doing useful work, but the COVID-19 pandemic has severely shrunk the labor market. The real unemployment rate, as Federal Reserve Chair Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen have made clear, remains near 10 percent. The U.S. has shed a net of roughly 9 million jobs in just a year.

To reboot the economy, and to provide paid work in the future for many who will still remain left out and left behind — especially Blacks, Hispanics, other minorities, persons with disabilities, and residents of isolated rural areas and segregated urban neighborhoods — the “Jobs for Economic Recovery Act” is the right policy.

If they were alive today, we believe our New Deal forebears —

  • President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Vice President, and Agriculture and Commerce Secretary, Henry Wallace
  • WPA Administrator, and Commerce Secretary, Harry Hopkins
  • Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, and
  • Interior Secretary, and PWA Administrator, Harold Ickes

— would agree that the “Jobs for Economic Recovery Act” should be included in the recovery plan you send to Congress. We ask this in their names — above all, because today’s crisis of unemployment requires a federal response at least as bold as they designed to pull America out of the Great Depression and usher in the New Deal.

Sincerely yours,

James Roosevelt, Jr.

Henry Scott Wallace

June Hopkins

Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall

Harold M. Ickes

Contact the New Deal descendants at contact@21stcenturynewdeal.org.

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