Charlotte Oakley: Dr. Martin, the opportunity to testify before Congress seems daunting to me. Tell us a couple of your stories about testifying before Congress.
Josephine Martin: This is the perfect time to get into that, because Congress while it was becoming very much aware there in the mid-sixties that there was a need to expand the program size, a bi-partisan committee of the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee was formed. It was called the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. Senator George McGovern and Senator Robert Dole were the bi-partisan leaders, but there were other very important bi-partisan members of that committee. The Senate Select Committee functioned for about 12 years from about 1967 to 1979. It was not an authorizer. It really didn’t have the authority, but it was a committee that brought together people to tell the concerns for nutrition in the United States. They heard from public interest groups. They heard from superintendants. They heard from school board members. They heard from the medical profession. They heard from the dietetic association, the School Nutrition Association. They brought all these people in. They had a constant set of hearings going on. The members of that committee would listen, and they published all of these wonderful reports. In fact out of the work of the Senate Select Committee came a recommendation that there be a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health. That was held in 1969 while President Nixon was in office. At the opening session he said, “Now is the time to put an end to hunger in America.” So there was great support there in the late sixties for expanding the program all the way from the President through the Congress. Senator Humphrey, Senator McGovern, and Senator Dole, and all of those wonderful senators were working hard to get the story out. There were a lot of public interest groups going on. It was a wonderful time to be involved. And I learned so much because I had the privilege – I have to go back just a bit to Georgia, because Senator Herman Talmadge was the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee, and Senator Talmadge was fiscally very conservative, and was from the old school that children should get their food at home and parents should be responsible. Of course he could buy the School Lunch Program because Senator Russell had followed it and he couldn’t be against it, but he just wasn’t sure about this Breakfast Program. And he called down to a sister state agency in Georgia and said, “You know, they tell me we need to have a breakfast program, but I just want to see for myself if it makes a difference. Would you arrange a tour?” Well, the people over in the Department of Welfare called and said, “Jo, we need to do a tour for the Senator to see breakfast programs. He would like to start down in middle Georgia and come all the way to Atlanta. Would you arrange this tour?” Well I did. We started down in Warner Robins, which is just south of Macon, and then we went to Macon. He saw schools. He saw children eating. He interviewed principals. He interviewed superintendants. He interviewed children. He interviewed teachers in Warner Robins and then Macon and then we came to Atlanta, and he heard the same story over and over. Well, at that time I was just in the package. I was just trailing along in my old car, I guess. I think I had to leave my car at the last school that we were in, because at the last school we were in Atlanta, he said to his legislative counsel, “Mike, I want you and Josephine to ride back to the hotel with me and I want to talk about this program. I want to introduce legislation to expand the School Breakfast Program. And Josephine, I want you to help draft it.” And so I had thought, “Ooh, what a great opportunity. I’ll get Thelma and Lee and Kathleen, and we will sit down and we will draft this.” Well, within about four days I had a call from the senator’s office. He wants me to come down there this Friday and help him draft this legislation. I thought, “I don’t have time to get Thelma. I don’t have time to get Lee and the other people. What will I do?” I went to the file drawer and I pulled out that piece of legislation that we had worked on in 1965. We sat down in the little conference room in the state department and we put the framework for the legislation for Senator Talmadge that was passed in 1970, and it was Public Law 91:240A. He often referred to that as legislation that transformed the National School Lunch Program. Because from 1970, with that one piece of legislation, until 1975, it was a domino effect. We started with making sure there was a reimbursement rate for needy kids and then we moved on to where Congress required the federal agency to establish a free and reduced meal schedule so that all the schools in the nation would be using the same criteria for determining eligibility for children. Then they required the USDA to come up with a national average payment system so that all schools would be paid a supplemental amount of money for free lunches and free breakfasts. Now up until that time we still had an appropriation, so it was not unusual for the money to run out in January or February if you had high participation. And the principals would say to me, “Josephine, I’m still not going to start this program in September if I have to tell kids in January or February ‘I’m sorry kids. You cannot eat anymore because we don’t have any more money.'” And I said to one of the legislative aides for Senator Humphrey, he and I were walking down the halls of Congress one day, and I said to him, “Jim, why don’t we just pass legislation that would guarantee principals that they would be assured of having enough money to pay for meals all year long once they have started?” And, he looked at me as if I was a little bit crazy and he said, “Josephine, that has never been done. That would be called an entitlement program and nothing is entitlement except Social Security, and that will not be done.” And, I said “Well, why don’t we try?” You know, my attitude has always been that old saying, I think it was George Bernard Shaw who originally said it, and it has been quoted many times by Bobby Kennedy and others, “Some people look at something and say ‘why’, and I look at them and say ‘why not.'”
So, I said to Jim, “Why not?” And so, we did get a provision in the legislation to provide for what we called performance funding, but it is really entitlement funding, that schools would be assured of having reimbursement at a specific level to last throughout the school year. And that national average payment schedule was also designed to have an escalator clause in it so that every year, as the cost of food went up, that the reimbursement rate would go up incrementally. Originally, back in 1946, there had been only one provision in the legislation for funding. Well, two. One was Section Four and that was called General Cash for Food Assistance. That provided a uniform reimbursement rate for every meal. So, if principals served extra meals, then they had to either have a partial pay, or they had to have fundraising, or PTAs came in, but there were very few free and reduced meals served, because schools simply didn’t have the money. But, the basic Section Four money had to be spread among the free and reduced meals as well as paid meals. That went on until the early seventies when we did get performance funding. With that performance funding schools were assured of having the money to serve kids all year long, which was probably so exciting. And then in the early seventies, because I had been involved with the legislation from the sixties, going to see Senator Russell and having the contact with Senator Russell, made me a prime suspect to be on ASFSA’s Legislative Committee. I was an early member of the Legislative Committee. About 1970 George Miller from Kansas City was president of the Association, and asked me if I would be Chairman of the Legislative Committee, and I said, “No, George. I don’t believe a female would be acceptable to be Chairman of the Legislative Committee. I think having a man in that role would be much more acceptable. I’m happy to be a member of it, but not chairman.” After working with Senator Talmadge I was invited again by Norm Mitchell to be chairman of the Legislative Committee. I served in that capacity until 1975, when I became president-elect of the Association. It was a wonderful experience to be there in those years from 1965 until probably 1980. I think I testified before Congress about 50 times. It was my state superintendant who one time said to me, “Would you tell me who you work for? Do you work for Herman Talmadge or do you work for us? Who pays your salary?” I said, “Who brings the money into Georgia?”
CO: Dr. Martin, tell us more about testifying before Congress. Give us some specifics about things that you have done.
JM: My very first experience in testifying before Congress was about 1968. This was the time that the Child Nutrition Act had been passed. It established the program on a pilot basis. Everything was pilot. There wasn’t a lot of money given. There was a great need. This was before the White House conference, and Senator Carl Perkins, who was another guru, was very interested. He was from Kentucky. He called Dr. Perryman and said, “I want you to put a panel of people together to come and tell about the need for money to feed children school lunches and school breakfasts in their states.” Well, it was the first time I had testified. We had someone from Massachusetts, someone from New Mexico, someone from North Carolina, and I was there. We had five people on that panel. Dr. Perryman had us come up to the Shoreham Hotel. We put on our best bib and tucker. I mean we were so officially dressed. We practiced and we practiced and we practiced as to what we would say. We each had a written testimony. So finally the day came for us to go to the Education and Labor Committee to appear before Congressman Perkins’s committee. Well, that committee hearing room is absolutely beautiful if you haven’t been there. It is what a congressional hearing room should look like. It so happened that the hearing was scheduled at the time of the Poor People’s March in Washington. Hundreds of thousands of poor people had converged on Washington to ask Congress to provide money to help feed their people, not only lunches, but they were also concerned about food stamps. They were there, and they had pitched their tents down in the Mall area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, so the whole area was just covered with these little tents where the poor people were sleeping at night and during the day they were knocking on the doors. Those of us who were on the panel were sitting with our backs to the door of the entrance to the hearing room, looking at the panel members. And, as we talked, we heard something. I like to think of it as a trump, trump, trump. We heard hundreds of footsteps coming in the back of the hearing room. Out of the corner of my eye I looked around and could immediately tell that these were people from the Poor People’s March. They very quietly took their chairs. During a break when the members of the committee had to go for a vote I felt this little tap on my shoulder and this woman came up to me. She introduced herself and said, “I am Mrs. So and So from Americus, Georgia, and I just want to tell you how much we appreciate you all being here in support of our children.” Each one of us had talked about the number of hungry children that the schools could not feed because they had no money. I had said we had 100,000 children in Georgia. Well, that was underestimating because we had no idea. At that point we couldn’t collect data. But this little woman put her hand on my shoulder and I will never forget that. Then she invited me, this almost brings tears to my eyes, to come to the tent city and have dinner with them that night. It was the sort of thing that if ever I had not been totally committed to getting federal and state support for feeding children and helping them develop healthy habits, it would have been at that moment. Well, we got over our emotion and Congressman Perkins and the committee came back and at the end of the hearing Congressman Perkins looked at us and said, “Well, I want to ask you a question. If I were to give you $100,000,000, would you be able to use it to feed needy children?” We looked at him starry eyed, with huge eyes, and in unison we all nodded our heads without saying a word. And, the congressman said, “Will someone please say something? This machine doesn’t record nods.” In unison we all said, “Yes.” At the end of the day we felt like we were very fortunate. We felt like we had just gotten $100,000,000 for kids. As a result of that Dr. Perryman, who was Executive Director, made us luggage tags and called us the Hundred Million Dollar Club. We had an assignment. We had to go back and Dr. Perryman had to collect data from the states to demonstrate that we truly could use $100,000,000. We did get that $100,000,000, and that was before we had the performance funding. That was an exciting – truly probably the most exciting time. Another experience that I had that was really fun, most of my testimony at that point had been before the Senate Select Committee and also with the Senate Agriculture Committee. I had never testified before an Appropriations Committee. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee where all of the funding bills began was Congressman Jimmy Whitten from North Mississippi, and I had heard that he was a bear and that people who had testified previously had not always come away feeling comfortable after their hearing. I went over there to the committee hearing with fear and trepidation the day I was to testify about the need for money. When I walked in, he greeted me, came down the stairs and said, “Hey, Ms. Martin. I am so glad to see you. Herman told me you were coming.” Senator Talmadge had called and I guess told him to be kind to me. He was a most gracious, wonderful person. The funding became available that we needed, so that was another experience. Now, this was not really a hearing that I attended, but it was an experience that I had in relation. Things began to change about the middle of 1975, from about the middle of the 1970’s. There was the Middle East Oil Crisis, and the nation needed to reduce the deficit. So, President Ford had vetoed a piece of school lunch legislation. That was the very first time that any piece of legislation in that 10-year period had been vetoed. They had all gone through the White House – just sailed through. But this one was vetoed, and the call came to the Association to get as many people from the states to come to Washington as possible to lobby every member of Congress before they voted to override the veto. It was unheard of almost for Congress to override a presidential veto. The ASFSA had what they called a Legislative Fly-In. About 150 school nutrition leaders from all over the country came in to lobby every member of Congress on the day before the vote. I and two other people from Georgia were there. We went to see one of our congressmen who happened to be from my North Georgia district, and we told him that we wanted him to vote against the veto, and he told us in pretty uncertain terms that he thought the president knew more about what the country needed more than we did and that he would not vote to override the veto. At the end of that conference the chairman of Georgia School Nutrition Legislative Committee stood up in her full height and glory, and she was a very dynamic individual, and she said, “Congressman, we really do appreciate all of the support you have given us with these programs over the years, but there is one thing that I really want to ask you tonight, when you get down on your knees to pray, and I know you do, would you ask the good Lord which way you should vote tomorrow?” And so with that we told the congressman goodbye and went on our merry way, and the next morning we were sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives when the veto bill came up to be voted on, and the chaplain began his morning prayer with these words, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” And someone nudged me and said, “Even he is for us – the Lord. Look who is for us now.” So anyway, we listened very intently until the roll call for the vote came, and we noticed people going up and having to punch the card or hit the button to record their vote, and we looked around and there was our congressman still standing at his seat, and when he finally saw the mass exodus for the veto he also voted for the veto. We said, “Okay, that’s good.” Then we went over to the Senate side and there we also had an unusual experience. It was a learning experience for me in politics that our senator had said to us, “If you need our vote you’ll get it, but if you don’t need it in order to pass it, for various reasons I will just abstain from voting, but I want you to understand why I abstained.” And so we watched, and that senator stood out in the vestibule until he also saw the exodus to override the veto, and he, too, entered in. It was a unanimous vote in the Senate to override the veto to save the School Nutrition Program. So those were just absolutely wonderful experiences. There were so many experiences in testifying before Congress. I think you will appreciate this. The USDA always has a very precarious role. They are part of the Executive Branch of government, and USDA has to support the Executive Branch. They have no choice. In one particular instance the USDA was not really supporting what the Association wanted. The chairman of the subcommittee of the Committee of the Agricultural and Forestry Committee said, “Josephine. I want you to come up there and I want you to sit by me while the assistant-secretary testifies. Now usually, we have members of the administration to testify before public organizations, but this time we are going to do it differently. We want you to testify, so that he has to listen to what you have to say before he testifies. And then I want you to sit up here by me, and when he testifies you tell me if he is telling it right or wrong.” That was a fun experience because I would sit there and (nods her head) and (shakes her head). And on both sides, on the Republican side and on the Democratic side, if I did this (shakes her head) they would really question and ask for clarification of the department’s role. There is another point to be made. When you are doing public policy you have to always have your facts straight. You have to have that trust relationship built with them so that they know you are not misleading them. That is something that is earned over time. I felt so humbled to be asked and I felt so responsible for the Association and the children of America to have to sit in that position. But I felt that is was my responsibility to do that. That was another one of those experiences. I also remember – you know child nutrition in the 40s and in the 50s was pretty dull for members of Congress. But when it became so active in the 60s those hearing rooms would be absolutely filled with public-interest groups and association people from all of the educational organizations. I remember one senior senator coming into the Senate Agriculture Hearing Room and he saw all of the television lights. He had never seen that much before and he had never seen a television light in the hearing room before because they drew so much attention, and he said (Dr. Martin puts her hand over her brow and looks around), “What’s going on in here?” That was so funny seeing a senior senator do that. I have had a lot of wonderful experiences, but I learned so much. I guess my second experience after meeting with Senator Russell was to go see Senator Talmadge. That was long before the tour, and the first question he asked me, I didn’t know the answer. All I could say to him was, “I don’t know, Senator. I will have to go back and find out the answer to that, and I will get it to you.” And that’s what I did. I think being honest with them and telling them up front if you don’t have the answer – the lesson that I learned then is to have your facts and let them know how it is going to affect their state, and particularly if it is a member of Congress, how it is going to affect their local community. Know as much about their local community as possible. Always keep your facts straight, because if you don’t it will catch up with you. If you deal honestly with them you will gain their respect just like you have respect of them. They have to see the bigger picture when they are making public policy. I recall again a situation that happened in the state legislature in Georgia. I can think of a similar situation in Washington – talking with a member of the Georgia General Assembly who had always been one of our greatest supporters when it came to legislation. But in this particular instance he said, “I am sorry Jo. I can’t go with you on this.” I said, “But you always have.” He said, “I know, but this is different.” This involves my local community. I have to do what my local community wants.” And so that was my first lesson at seeing that just because somebody says “No” one time, it doesn’t mean they are always going to be for or against you. You have to try to see it as much as possible from their perspective. For those of us who work at the local level or the state level it is very hard to see the many things that impact a decision made by a member of the General Assembly or a member of Congress, because they have such big things. I remember sitting in with one of the senators on the Senate Select Committee when he was discussing a part of a school lunch bill and, “Oh, let’s go with it, let’s go with it, let’s go with it.” And his legislative aide said, “Senator, you remember that bridge?” “Oh – I do. Let’s delay taking a position on that.” And so this has to be done, and you have to realize that if you are sitting on the advocacy side, and you have to realize that they have to see the big picture and always keep the big picture in front of them. Public policy is so exciting. As you can tell, I get really excited. It was one of the most rewarding parts of my full professional career.