The White House Agenda for the Poor

by Mary C. Piemonte 

The new administration of President Barack Obama is apparently not very interested in sharing its plans for low-income people. Little has been announced publicly about what the administration will do for the poor in these hard economic times, and Residents’ Journal’s calls to the White House over a three-week period failed to get a comment by press time.

A lot of information is available on the White House web site, however. Here is a partial list: To tackle concentrated poverty, the Obama administration promises to create and establish 20 “Promise Neighborhoods in areas that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of student academic achievement in cities across the nation.” The program will be modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides an entire neighborhood with services for young people at every age, including early childhood education, youth violence prevention efforts and after-school activities, according to the White House.

The administration plans to spend $1 billion over five years on transitional jobs and career pathway programs for low-income people. A Green Jobs Corps Program will be created “to directly engage disadvantaged youth in energy efficiency opportunities to strengthen their communities.” To ensure that low-income workers can get to work, the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute Program will send more dollars for public transportation to the highest-need communities and also fund urban planning on transportation policy.

The administration plans to increase Earned Income Tax Credit benefits and reduce the marriage penalty, which they state “hurts low-income families.” The minimum wage will rise to $7.25 an hour this year, and is expected to increase to $9.50 an hour by 2011. Paid sick days will be guaranteed for low-wage workers. Low-income and middle-income workers will also receive a $500 “Making Work Pay” tax credit to offset their payroll taxes, and taxes will also be eliminated from seniors making under $50,000 annually. The credits will be permanent, and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit will be reformed “by making it refundable and allowing low-income families to receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses.”

The president also plans to sign into law his Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act, which will “remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, and ensure that payments go to families instead of state bureaucracies.”

The Nurse-Family Partnership program, which provides home visits by trained, registered nurses to low-income, expectant mothers and their families, will expand to 570,000 low-income, first-time mothers each year.

Nearly $20 million is scheduled to be spent to increase food stamp benefits to the 30 million people who use them, and to provide money for food banks, school lunch programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income seniors and families pay heat and air conditioning bills, will increase to $3.2 billion.

The administration plans to create a prison-to-work incentive program to reduce crime recidivism and to ensure that ex-offenders have access to job training and other opportunities, substance abuse and mental health counseling.

The National Affordable Housing Plans The president’s new budget restores cuts to public housing operating subsidies from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and increases funding “while reforming or eliminating duplicative and inefficient programs.” The Affordable Housing Trust Fund, authorized in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, will be funded at $1 billion every year for affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods.

The Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) — that provides housing and creates jobs primarily for low- and moderate-income people — will also be fully funded and increased to $4.5 billion for 2010. Funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program will also be increased “to help more than two million extremely low- to low-income families with rental assistance.” Funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance program will be increased for owners of multifamily properties. The administration predicts this will preserve approximately 1.3 million rental units. The Obama Administration will direct the US Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation “to encourage banks, credit unions and Community Development Financial Institutions to provide affordable short-term and small dollar loans – and to drive the sharks out of business.”

Rebuilding New Orleans Obama’s agenda for Hurricane Katrina victims centers on “keeping the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.” In early March, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that “hundreds of millions of dollars in funding” will be allotted to Louisiana to rebuild the area from the devastating hurricanes that took place there in 2005. $1.5 billion is allocated for homeless prevention activities, which will be sent out to states, cities and local governments through the Emergency Shelter Grant Formula, according to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

For People with Disabilities The administration is proposing a four-part plan “to empower individuals with disabilities in order to equalize opportunities for them and provide lifelong support and resources to them.” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will fund programs to support early intervention for children with disabilities and universal screening to improve college opportunities for high school graduates with disabilities and make college more affordable. Regulations that require the federal government and its contractors to employ people with disabilities and those that provide private-sector employers with resources to accommodate employees with disabilities will be implemented “effectively,” the administration pledged. The Community Choice Act will help Americans with disabilities who want to live “in their community rather than having to live in a nursing home or other institution.”

For the Nation’s Senior Citizens The Obama Administration states it will protect Social Security and is opposed to privatization. “As part of a bipartisan plan that would be phased in over many years, they will ask those making over $250,000 to contribute a bit more to Social Security to keep it sound.” To protect workers and retirees’ pensions, corporate bankruptcy laws will be reformed, and automatic workplace pensions plans will be created, which will require employers who do not currently offer a retirement plan to enroll their employees in a direct-deposit IRA account. Employees can choose not to participate in the plan. Social Security, Supplemental Security and veterans benefits will temporarily increase to where nearly 60 million retired and disabled Americans will immediately get $250. To stop job discrimination for aging employees, the administration plans to strengthen the Age Discrimination in Employment Act along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Programs like Senior Corps that retirees who want to volunteer opportunities will be expanded.

Education Plans The No Child Left Behind Program will continue to be funded and a K-12 plan will be created that will “expand service scholarships to underwrite high-quality preparation for teachers who commit to working in undeserved districts and support ongoing improvements in teacher education.” In the administration’s “Zero to Five” childhood education plan, young children and their parents will receive support through a $10 billion annual investment to create Early Learning Challenge Grants. Head Start funding will increase, with the aim that all children have access to pre-school, and a “Presidential Early Learning Council” will be created. Funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers’ “high quality after school programs” will double to serve 1 million more children. “To reduce the national High School dropout rate,” Obama intends to sign into law his “Success in the Middle Act.” In the 2010-2011 school year, Pell grants will be increased to a maximum of $5,550 for college students. In the future, Pell grants will be indexed to the consumer price index plus 1 percent in order to offset inflation. Also in the budget, the administration promises to boost the Student Loan Program and force private providers to compete for contracts to service loans. Campus-based, low-interest loans will be made more widely available through a new Perkins Loan program. “In addition, the budget increases funding for the charter school program to support the expansion of successful charter school models, while increasing state oversight to monitor and shut down low-performing charter schools.”

Crime and Law Enforcement National Plans To tackle the War on Drugs on the home front, Obama plans “to fully fund the COPS program to put 50,000 police officers on the street and help address police brutality and accountability issues in local communities.” Local programs like Ceasefire in Chicago will be supported and “the Tiahrt Amendment — which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade ? will be repealed to address gun violence in cities across the country.” Obama supports “closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof,” and they will also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent.

Health Care Provisions The president’s FY2010 budget also includes access to health care for young and old low-income Americans, including Indians and Alaska Natives. On March 2, Obama announced that under the Recovery Plan, $155 million dollars will go toward supporting 126 new health centers across America “to help relieve the burden on emergency rooms across the country, which have become primary care clinics for many lacking health care coverage, and create jobs for an estimated 750,000 low-income Americans.” The budget also includes $73 million to improve both access to and quality of health care for those living in rural areas. Also under the Recovery Act, funding for Medicaid will “temporarily” increase to help states facing budget shortfalls. The federal government will also boost Medicare “by encouraging high quality and efficient care, and reducing excessive Medicare payments.” Obama signed an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) on Feb. 4, funding the program through 2013 and providing an additional $44 billion above the previous $25 billion. CHIP will cover four million new children, the administration maintains.

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