CCC saved our bacon before

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By John Bartlit

Food stamps is a timely issue in Congress. Food stamps tie to a wide range of growing national problems that extend from welfare and budget limits to joblessness, unstable families and the workings of nature.
To sum up: Republicans want to end food stamps for anyone who is not working. This idea makes sense if enough full-time jobs exist so everyone able to work can find work.
Ties exist among welfare, the number of jobs created and the stability of families. These ties fill the news now and were painfully clear to America of the 1930s.
The nation’s 1930s response to all three problems had exceedingly good results. It was the Civilian Conservation Corps, a remedy I keep pushing.
A bill from President Franklin Roosevelt for the CCC reached Congress on March 21, 1933, and a CCC act was passed 10 days later by voice vote. Those voices struck a deal worth trying.
The CCC ended in 1942, when the young men went off to war.
As the name says, the men worked on conservation projects, such as building erosion controls, roads, trails and structures on public lands; fighting wildfires and planting trees. Admire the CCC workmanship in the stone buildings, carpentry and tinware at Bandelier and similar work in parks from Yosemite to Acadia.
What the CCC achieved and the need for more of it remains with us today.
Enrollees were jobless unmarried men, 18-24 years old, from relief families. Up to three million signed up.
A quarter million blacks had groups of their own, as did World War I veterans and Native Americans. Ninety percent had not finished high school.
Similar groups lack jobs today.
CCC camps were run by the Army, but were not military. The work was hard, 40 hours plus per week.
Pay was $30 a month, of which $25 was sent directly home.
Benefits included free food, housing, clothing, medical care and work training.
A CCC bonus to the nation when WWII broke out was a core of leaders and workers trained in team resourcefulness.
The aims and outcomes of the CCC are told in compelling terms: “Its purpose was two-fold — conservation of our natural resources and the salvage of our young men.” Similar needs exist today.
New needs for boundless work follow from nature’s disasters. We have plenty of these, from super storms to long-term drought.
The CCC lifted the nation when times were hard. Yet we seem unable to rework it, lest the wrong party gain polling points.
Say a notable Democrat proposed a CCC model. What would notable Republicans say?
An easy guess is, “Business must have the lead in it, for ample government fees.” The next easy guess is, “It takes money from job creators and gives it to the jobless.”
We expect the familiar blackballs. “The jobless won’t sign up if it means hard work.” “The Democrats’ aim is creeping socialism.” “A shabby waste of tax money on dirt paths and little trees.”
Now switch party hats on the CCC proposal.
Say a notable Republican suggested a modern CCC. What would notable Democrats say?
An easy guess is, “Republicans kowtow to rich corporations.”
We expect the familiar blackballs. “It’s a greedy assault on minimum wage.” “The Republicans’ game is brewing militarism.” “A shabby scheme to cripple unions!” (Unions opposed FDR’s CCC bill.)
Solving problems often means building ties with strange bedfellows.
A large opportunity is at hand to require work for food stamps, while offering full-time jobs that build job skills of the unemployed.
As we learned by experience, other byproducts are a stronger infrastructure and a healthier environment, both in human capital and dollar capital.
The dreary debate asks only whether the rich or the poor use federal billions better. Instead, why not spend money where it would help all of us?
Try what saved our bacon before — a CCC program.

John Bartlit is a member of the New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water.