Gore to speak from King's pulpit Vice president to call for increase in efforts to end discrimination

January 19, 1998|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Journeying to the spiritual epicenter of the American civil rights movement, Vice President Al Gore will stand in the former pulpit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. today to call for an increase in federal efforts to root out racial and gender discrimination.

Speaking at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Gore will unveil White House proposals for a 17 percent increase in spending on programs targeting employers and landlords who systematically deny job and housing opportunities to tens of thousands of people based on their sex or the color of their skin.

The proposed increase, to be contained in the 1999 budget President Clinton presents to Congress on Feb. 2, would raise federal spending on such programs by $86 million next year to $602 million, a White House official said. This year's level is $516 million.

The proposal, carefully staged for release on the national holiday commemorating King's work, is aimed at slashing by more than half the current backlog of 64,000 discrimination cases pending before an overburdened federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

It would also increase the number of undercover testers who pose as renters or buyers to check for discrimination by housing providers, the administration official explained.

Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who fought alongside King in his battle against segregation a generation ago, said the proposed increases were "long overdue." He hailed the proposal as "a major step" in the nation's continued march toward racial equality.

"The administration will be sending a strong message that it is going to do everything possible to lay down the burden of discrimination for the 21st century," Lewis said in a telephone interview. "I would like to think that, and hope that, the great majority of my colleagues in the Congress, on both sides of the aisle, would support this."

Hoping to engender broad public support for the measure, Gore has chosen as a backdrop the nation's richest tapestry of civil rights symbolism. King's former sanctuary has become a national shrine to the civil rights movement he spearheaded.

"There is nobody who can claim more than Martin Luther King can claim to have moved the government forward in these areas, and it's a particularly fitting tribute to him," said the White House official, who insisted on anonymity. "There was nobody who did more to get these laws off the ground."

The year after King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech Aug. 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination and created the EEOC to handle alleged discrimination in the workplace.

Today, the EEOC is coming under increasing fire from critics, however. Long overburdened, it takes an average of 9.4 months to process a complaint.

The lengthy wait list discourages many people from filing complaints, said Lewis, whose office devotes extensive staff resources to trying to assist those in his district in pursuing such cases.

The initiative Gore plans to introduce today seeks to reduce the backlog by enabling the EEOC to beef up its staff, purchase new computers and expand its capacity for mediating cases that don't require a court hearing to resolve.

Under the White House proposal, the EEOC's budget would increase from $242 million in fiscal 1998 to $279 million in the year beginning this October -- a 15.3 percent increase.

The proposal also calls for investigators in the Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive $52 million in 1999, a 73.3 percent increase over 1998 levels. Much of the increase would go toward hiring and training people to test for discriminatory practices among landlords and real estate sellers.

Additional increases would go to strengthen efforts to ensure compliance with federal contracting requirements designed to assure opportunities for minority businesses and to bolster the anti-discrimination efforts of a broad array of agencies ranging from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Labor.

Pub Date: 1/19/98

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