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Work Relief Administration Press Conferences
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Press Conference
Harry Hopkins
April 28, 1938
4:00 P.M.


Query:

Well, how is the relief situation?

Mr. Hopkins:

I suppose if I went to sleep and woke up one hundred years from now, somebody would ask me how the relief situation is, or how politics are in Pennsylvania.

Query:

Tell us about Pennsylvania and Florida.

Mr. Hopkins:

Make a question.

Query:

When Dryden returns his report will a copy of it go to Mr. Roosevelt?

Mr. Hopkins:

No, not that I know of.

Query:

Hasn't a report been returned?

Mr. Hopkins:

No. All I can say now is this; some charges have been made by one politician about another putting heat on WPA workers. These things crop up every year at election time. I think any charges like that are serious and are not unimportant, because I think the American people are very jealous that these relief funds—public funds—be not used in any way directly or indirectly by politicians for political purposes. I have said often before, and I repeat again that I do not care how these people on WPA vote. They can vote for anybody they please, and nobody will lose his job or be penalized in any way because he votes for this man or the other man. Furthermore, if any official of the WPA is found doing any funny business on political fronts of this character, he will be fired at once, and I do not have to ask anybody about whether I shall fire him or not. I do not intend to tolerate any political interference in the WPA. I can say nothing now about the merits of these charges of one politician about another.

Query:

Do you know anything about a specific case of a man named Thoner of Tampa, Florida, who lost his job because he testified in the Grand Jury?

Mr. Hopkins:

I heard about some fellow who lost his job and was put back to work two hours later. I do not know the details.

Query:

Did you read Pegler's column this morning?

Mr. Hopkins:

No, I do not read Pegler at any time if I can possibly avoid it.

Query:

Where does your authority end; how far can you go?

Mr. Hopkins:

I can go right down to any man or anybody employed in the WPA.

Query:

The thing I had in mind was this; obviously in some states politicians are politically minded and have more to do with the appointment of WPA officials than you.

Mr. Hopkins:

That is a general statement you would have to back up.

Query:

Does the law carry any penitentiary offense or fine?

Mr. Hopkins:

There is a clause in the law about that.

Query:

Would you mind reading it?

Mr. Hopkins:

I do not have the law here, but this is the point; I cannot control a politician who does not work for me. I cannot control a county Committeeman who writes letters to our people and says in effect that if you don't contribute to our campaign fund you will lose your job. All I can say to the WPA workers is, do not pay any attention to it. They can do as they please; contribute to the other side if they like, for all I care. I cannot keep these politicians on the outside from trying to make all these WPA people think they owe their jobs to them. I cannot stop them from handing out handbills after the project workers leave, saying—if you vote for so and so your job is secure. These fellows have nothing to do with me. They are running a political campaign. I cannot stop them from doing it. Then the papers begin a roar about political things. All I can guarantee is to protect any WPA worker from getting fired.

Query:

You are dealing with people who are afraid. Some of that fear we hear so much about is in the hearts of those WPA people and they are impressed by any kind of statement by a politician. Do you believe that is true?

Mr. Hopkins:

I think some politicians like to make people believe that, but I think that is much over-emphasized. But I do not want you to think it is not important because it is. In the first place, I do not think the American people like the idea of political interference with relief no matter where it comes from or how it is done. In the second place, I do not intend to let these babies operate on me.

Query:

What are you going to do about its

Mr. Hopkins:

I an going to see that all of our people are given protection, and I am not going to let any WPA worker inside my show get mixed up in this. But you have to remember that in a democratic country there are whole groups of people. I have heard politicians say—we will get such and such a vote in such and such a city. There is nothing new about that. I have heard them say—we will get every old person in this state because of the policy of the old-age pension.

Query:

You said all that was involved in Pennsylvania was that one politician made charges against another.

Mr. Hopkins:

We are meeting every charge that anybody is making out there. Dryden is collecting them. We refer to our own people, outside people or anybody.

Query:

You cannot take the stand of one side against another so far as charges are concerned?

Mr. Hopkins:

I want to know the facts; the merits of the case.

Query:

If the charges show one side is culpable, you will take action?

Mr. Hopkins:

Sure. If anybody in our shop has done something he should not have done, I am going after him. This thing will be back here pretty soon on my desk. It will not take long.

Query:

Can you give us any idea as to how many days?

Mr. Hopkins:

No, but soon. I am not going to wait until the day after the primary, you can bet on that.

Query:

The Minority of the Unemployment Relief Committee charged Monday that the WPA was being run extravagantly, wastefully and inefficiently.

Mr. Hopkins:

You wouldn't put that under the heading of news, would you?

Query:

I was wondering if you had any suggestions.

Mr. Hopkins:

I think it is nuts.

Query:

Do you know about this situation in Flint, Michigan, that developed today? The County Relief Director wants to remove 12,000......

Mr. Hopkins:

I do not know anything about it.

Query:

Mr. Martin, the head of the Automobile Workers Union is in town. He said he is going to call on you.

Mr. Hopkins:

I will be glad to see him.

Query:

That are you going to tell him?

Mr. Hopkins:

I do not know. Wait until I talk to Mr. Martin.

Query:

He says he has to have more WPA jobs.

Mr. Hopkins:

I do not want to comment. If Martin wants to see me, I will be glad to talk to him.

Query:

Would you say whether there are any more jobs?

Mr. Hopkins:

We are putting people on every week.

Query:

Aren't you up to the peak?

Mr. Hopkins:

No.

Query:

What about this 65% on the Byrnes report that WPA workers have other jobs?

Mr. Hopkins:

That is not quite what he said. That committee made a study of 8,000 building trades of skilled workers, and of those 8,000 skilled workers, 63 or 65% did some other work during that month. On the basis of a projection of what they earned in that month, outside of what they earned with us, the average outside earnings would have been $102 a year. That refers to skilled workers who have a shorter number of hours. Therefore, there is a much higher percentage among the skilled workers outside than amongst any other group we have. Now, if there were an implication that this is bad, I think that is a subject for discussion. For instance, should we discourage a man on the WPA from picking up a job when he is not working for us? Very often that is the way he gets his permanent job. You have to remember that there is a tremendously big turnover in the WPA. Up to the last few months there were 8% leaving every month. They get jobs in a variety of ways, and many take a temporary job on the side. I think it is a very nice question; if you are going to say under no circumstances are you going to do this while on WPA. The difficulties on the other side are that they may under-cut the hourly rate—work cheaper on the side, or chisel—which is bad, but you have to survey the whole merits of the case. That is a difficult problem around this work of ours, and I think one should be cautious about drawing conclusions from it.

Query:

It has been recommended that they register each month how much they earned. Is that a good idea?

Mr. Hopkins:

Suppose they do; suppose the wages a man earns are $8 this month. In the first place, the security wage of the man is substantially less than any minimum cost of living anywhere I know about in the United States.

Query:

What is your load now?

Mr. Hopkins:

As of April 23rd it is 2,543,000.

Query:

Can you tell us anything about the new program. What kind of projects are you going to take up?

Mr. Hopkins:

The projects will be very similar to the ones we are now doing.

Query:

I have a second question. I had a report the other day that both you and Mr. Ickes were at the White House and that you were both warned that you should have no squabbles about the money to be spent.

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes, I could tell you all about that, but I don't think I will. I could tell you privately all about it, but you are wrong; you have been misinformed.

Query:

But you were over there.

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes, not once, but many times in the last two or three weeks. That conversation never took place. There is one good reason why Ickes and I are not going to get into any squabble.

Press:

Mr. Ickes is not going to get any money.

Laughter.

Mr. Hopkins:

You ask the questions and answer them yourselves.

Query:

How about you answering that one?

Mr. Hopkins:

I do not know why two people who really believe in this New Deal should do any rowing. That is the answer.

Query:

If I may ask one more Pennsylvania question—has your attention been called to a publication called Economic Security?

Mr. Hopkins:

I have seen a copy.

Query:

Have you examined it?

Mr. Hopkins:

No, not carefully,

Query:

Have you any opinion to express at this time as to whether it is a proper publication?

Mr. Hopkins:

No; that is published by an outfit that has nothing to do with WPA.

Query:

It is addressed to WPA people.

Mr. Hopkins:

All right. The General Motors outfit may try to sell all our people radios too.

Query:

It contains an interview with the WPA director of the state.

Mr. Hopkins:

That is all right. The Chamber of Commerce may contain an interview with me. I doubt it, but it might.

Query:

You are not ready to express an opinion?

Mr. Hopkins:

No. It is not our publication and that is that.

Query:

Are you investigating counter charges against the author of these now famous charges?

Mr. Hopkins:

There are a good many in Dryden's lap.

Query:

Has Dryden any assistance in this thing?

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes, he has help.

Query:

How about this chain letter business?

Mr. Hopkins:

Is that the one Taber was talking about that I inspired?

Query:

Can we get the original?

Mr. Hopkins:

Taber was just talking through his hat. Taber is a nice well-meaning man but he doesn't believe in taking care of the unemployed. He is the most consistent man I know. He has been opposed to this from the very beginning. Of course, what Taber probably doesn't like is when some poor so-and-so drops a letter on his desk—that is propaganda. It is all right if somebody else drops one on his desk. I did not inspire it, and it never occurred to me to do it. I do not know anything about a chain letter.

Query:

Is it correct that the 24 million dollar grant for Pennsylvania highways is part of the Pennsylvania money?

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes, that is one large project.

Query:

Have you any comments to make on J. Edgar Hoover's suggestion to fingerprint WPA workers?

Mr. Hopkins:

In view of the fact that I don't know whether or not he said it, I have no comment to make.

Press:

That is an A.P. story.

Query:

Have you taken any concrete steps to assure WPA workers that they will not lose their jobs, to counteract......

Mr. Hopkins:

If I can get on the radio stations in the near future, that is one way I can get at it. Now I am preparing a communication to every WPA worker in the country in words of one syllable, and I intend to use every method I can find to get this to them.

Query:

Senator Lodge in his report seems to think that WPA publications are too fancy. Is there any way to make them as simple as the Congressional Record?

Mr. Hopkins:

You admit that is stupid—to print something that looks like the Congressional Record.

Query:

Are you settling a dispute over a weed eradication project?

Mr. Hopkins:

Not that I know of.

Query:

Colonel Harrington was supposed to have made an investigation.

Mr. Hopkins:

I am not worried about what they do.

Query:

Congressman Barton wants to send these people to jail that put politics into relief. Do you think that is necessary?

Mr. Hopkins:

I am not worried about what they do. If they use those weapons, it is all right with me.

Query:

Do you have any comment to make on Senator Van Nuys that WPA is breaking the morale of the people?

Mr. Hopkins:

That is ridiculous. What does he propose to do?

Query:

He did not say.

Mr. Hopkins:

That is absurd. How can you break the morale of somebody who is busted—who hasn't got anything. I do not think that kind of talk makes sense.

Query:

Have you decided on any date on this radio thing?

Mr. Hopkins:

Pretty soon, I hope.

Query:

That do you mean, soon?

Mr. Hopkins:

Within a week, certainly.

Query:

When will that letter go out?

Mr. Hopkins:

It will go out sooner than that.

Query:

Both within a week?

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes. That ought to be of benefit to Pennsylvania. Your newspaper must have a wide circulation tomorrow.

Press:

A very wide circulation.

Query:

Did you say that communication would go to all WPA workers?

Mr. Hopkins:

Every one.

Query:

Has it been prepared yet?

Mr. Hopkins:

It is being prepared now.

Query:

Will copies be available here?

Mr. Hopkins:

Sure.

Query:

And that will emphasize what you said today generally about no one losing his job on account of voting one way or the other?

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes, right on the line.

Query:

Are you glad to be back?

Mr. Hopkins:

Sure I am glad to be back.

Query:

In spite of all the Pennsylvania politics?

Mr. Hopkins:

Sure. There are important things to be done.

Press:

We are glad to have you.

Mr. Hopkins:

Thank you.

At this point the conference adjourned.

Reported by:

Mrs. Luxford
Mrs. Bonaventura

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