Last week, I visited Pine Mountain State Park in southeastern Kentucky, along with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers, to announce the expansion of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative into three new Appalachian states—Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia—and one state in the Delta region, Louisiana.
I believe that USDA and its partners have the tools to expand opportunity and better serve those living in persistent poverty in rural America. Our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative, which helped to inform President Obama's recently-announced Promise Zones, is about doing just that—rallying available tools and technical assistance and targeting these resources to the areas where they are needed most.
Through StrikeForce, we’ve partnered with more than 400 community organizations, businesses, foundations, universities and other groups to support 80,300 projects and ushered more than $9.7 billion in investments into rural America. Expanding StrikeForce support to these four additional states will help leverage USDA resources with the unique expertise of community leaders, business, foundations and other groups working in rural Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia.
President Obama has also recognized the unique challenges of rural poverty with his new Promise Zone initiative. For example, in addition to receiving StrikeForce support, the Kentucky Highlands in southeastern Kentucky has also been targeted as a Promise Zone area. Promise Zones are part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities, faith-based organizations, foundations, and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety.
Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor
When I became labor secretary a little over six months ago, I made increasing the minimum wage one of my top priorities. During the time since, I’ve met with hard-working Americans who’ve shared with me their heart wrenching stories about what it’s like to live on the minimum wage, making constant choices between things like paying the rent or putting food on the table.
In the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works a full time job should have to live in poverty. That’s a fundamental value proposition, an article of faith in our country that I know an overwhelming majority of Americans agree on.
Today I had the chance to hear from twenty men and women who run businesses, including many who own small businesses. They’ll be directly affected by any increase in the minimum wage. I learned it’s not just workers who support a federal increase; What I heard from these business owners is that raising the wage would help their businesses, too, by putting more money in the pockets of those in their communities. Here’s what a few of them had to say:
Charmington’s Cafe in Baltimore, Md.
Amanda Rothschild runs a small café in Baltimore in which she pays her employees just above the current federal minimum wage, and she does so because it’s good for her bottom line. She told me that when you put more money in workers’ pockets, they stay on the job longer which reduces turnover and training costs: “Our training costs would be significantly higher if we paid lower wages and we had the kind of turnover that you typically see in a restaurant.” She also said that she wants to see an increase in the minimum wage so that more people in her community could spend money in her café.
Emory Knoll Farms in Street, Md.
John Shepley runs Emory Knoll Farms, a small wholesale nursery in Maryland. He makes a strong economic argument for paying those at the bottom of the income ladder a little bit more: “They’re spending 100-percent of their take-home pay in the local economy. It’s recirculating. They’re spending it on rent, groceries, cars, new tires – all the things you need to live.”
Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, Mo.
Lew Prince runs Vintage Vinyl, a record store in St. Louis and is a survivor in an industry that’s seen a significant downsizing in recent years. He echoed Amanda’s words that increasing the minimum wage would lead to worker retention and a stronger local economy:: “I’m in an industry where 60% of the businesses are closed in the 21st century. If you think about having a relationship with your community and a relationship with your customers, it starts with your relationship to your employees.”
These business owners are not alone. A broader coalition and consensus is emerging. Yesterday I was in Silicon Valley where I met with business leaders and employers who aren’t directly paying any of their workers the minimum wage. But even they understand the issues that affect their bottom line. They want to make sure that people have money in their pockets to buy the products they’re making.
The take-away from these conversations is simple: When we lift the wage floor, it not only betters the lives of those whose wages are directly affected, it also lifts the economy as a whole.
The business leaders I’ve talked to in the last few days shatter the myth that a higher minimum wage hurts the bottom line. They know that our economy is powered by consumer demand, and it will benefit from more money in the pockets of working families who will spend it on goods and services. Better than anyone, business leaders know that leads to business growth and job creation. It’s time Congress acted to #raisethewage.
Last June, President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan to combat climate change through domestic and international action. In his Georgetown speech announcing the plan, the President directed his Administration to “launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy.” This week, the United States and like-minded trading partners took an important step in pushing forward this initiative, which will support green jobs here at home and level the playing field for our exporters abroad.
Today the United States announced plans for a new initiative with 13 other partner countries – find the list here – to eliminate tariffs on environmental goods in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The countries participating in today’s announcement account for 86 percent of global trade in environmental goods, such as such as solar water heaters, wind turbines, and catalytic converters.
Eliminating tariffs on renewable and clean energy technologies can make them cheaper and more accessible for everyone. Tariffs add unnecessary costs to the technologies needed to fight pollution and protect the environment, such as water filtration and renewable energy technologies. Total global trade in environmental goods totals nearly $955 billion annually, and some countries currently apply tariffs as high as 35 percent.
For my team, the 2014 State of the Union process started months ago.
It started with a pile of folders, papers, and a lot of ideas -- from the President, regular people, and policy experts -- that we want this speech and this year to focus on.
That's our team's job: We take the President's ideas and priorities and we execute the policies that will put them into action.
Ultimately, everything that goes into the President’s address and the work that follows – work that is focused on making life a little better for millions of Americans -- all started, at some point, with a letter to the President or an idea in a binder.
It's a pretty cool job and one I’m honored to have.
If you want to see how it all comes together, make sure you're watching on Tuesday.
Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that's happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This week, the President announced important reforms to the National Security Agency and new measures to prevent sexual assault, honored Martin Luther King with a service project at DC Central Kitchen, signed the 2014 appropriations bill into law to fund the government, and hosted a conference of mayors. That's January 17th to January 23rd or, "199!"
Last Friday, the President spoke to the American people, and the international community, about how to keep us safe from terrorism in a changing world while upholding America’s commitment to liberty and privacy that our values and Constitution require. Our national security challenges are real, but that is surely not the only space where changes in technology are altering the landscape and challenging conceptions of privacy.
That’s why in his speech, the President asked me to lead a comprehensive review of the way that “big data” will affect the way we live and work; the relationship between government and citizens; and how public and private sectors can spur innovation and maximize the opportunities and free flow of this information while minimizing the risks to privacy. I will be joined in this effort by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, the President’s Science Advisor John Holdren, the President’s Economic Advisor Gene Sperling and other senior government officials.
I would like to explain a little bit more about the review, its scope, and what you can expect over the next 90 days.
There's really no other process like the State of the Union -- it's always an exciting and hectic week to be at the White House.
Of course, it's a process that involves a lot of policy experts and writers from around the building -- but input and ideas from brilliant folks outside the building are just as important. That's why our team has held a series of conversations with the American public about when they hope to hear in the President's address next Tuesday.
Far too often before the Affordable Care Act came into effect, health insurance did not provide peace of mind – it provided anxiety, panic, and dread. Up to 129 million Americans – that’s nearly one in two people – could be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, or for that matter pregnancy or even something as ridiculous as acne.
And for the rest of Americans, they knew that coming down with any illness could mark them with that scarlet letter, where they could be unable to get affordable coverage, be trapped in a job, or even be dropped from their coverage because they got sick and have nowhere to turn. As the Vice President said in a speech to this morning, every family was one job loss or one illness away from seeing the worst of the insurance system – “There but for the grace of God.” Just consider some of these headlines – from before the health care law’s provisions took effect:
- From The Washington Post in 2009: "Acne, Pregnancy Among Disqualifying Conditions"
- From USA Today in 2007: "People Left Holding Bag When Policies Revoked"
- From The New York Times in 2004: "Cost of Benefits Cited as Factor in Slump in Jobs”
- And in 2002: "Hard Decisions for Employers as Costs Soar in Health Care"
Those headlines weren’t flukes, they were emblematic of broad, systemic problems. That’s why we put together this presentation as a reminder of what we’ve left behind now that the Affordable Care Act has come into full effect. You can also find a lot of that same information in this shareable infographic.
Next Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address to members of Congress and to the American people. Later that week, President Obama will take a virtual road trip across the country via Google+ Hangouts to discuss the issues and policies laid out in the speech with citizens joining from around the country.
Want to come along for the ride? Here’s how you can participate:
- Record your video question now. Record a 60-second video question for the opportunity to participate in the Hangout Road Trip with the President. Be sure to include your name, location, a bit about yourself and the question you’d like to ask. Then, post it on YouTube or Google+ with the hashtag #AskObama2014.
- Watch the enhanced State of Union. Tune in to Whitehouse.gov on January 28th at 9pm ET to watch President Obama's address live and enhanced with data, graphs and charts that explain the policies and issues he'll be discussing in the speech.
- Join the Hangout Road Trip. Everyone is invited to tune-in for the first-ever Presidential Hangout Road Trip on Friday, January 31st. You can watch it all live on the White House YouTube page, Google+ and on WhiteHouse.gov/SOTU.
As part of an unprecedented national effort to address alarming rates of sexual assault on college campuses, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum today to establish the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault." The taskforce will be charged with sharing best practices, and increasing transparency, enforcement, public awareness, and interagency coordination to prevent violence and support survivors. The creation of this Task Force builds upon the President’s 2010 call to action, which urged the federal government to support survivors and aggressively take action against sexual assault.
The statistics around sexual assault in this country are nothing short of jarring. A report just released by the White House Council on Women and Girls entitled, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” reveals that nearly 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. These statistics are stunning, but still can’t begin to capture the emotional and psychological scars that survivors often carry for life, or the courage needed to recover.
President Barack Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum during a White House Council on Women and Girls meeting in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 22, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Today’s report states that students experience some of the highest rates of sexual assault. This violence, and the stress, fear, and mental health challenges that often follow, combine to increase dropout rates and limit opportunities for success in college for women and girls. The Administration is committed to investing in women’s education, training, and full inclusion in the workforce, and the President strongly believes that combatting sexual assault is vital to that effort.
In less than a week, President Obama will deliver his fifth State of the Union address from the Capitol. I'm the President's chief speechwriter and today I'll be taking over the White House Instagram account to give you a look inside the process. I hope you'll follow along.
One week from today, President Obama will head to the Capitol to lay out his plan for the upcoming year of action in his fifth State of the Union address.
The President's State of the Union address to Congress is part of a tradition that dates back to our Founding Fathers. Hear what Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, had to say about why the speech is so important, and then RSVP to watch the address on Tuesday, January 28 at 9:00 pm ET.
Ed. note: The following blog post was cross-posted from Let's Move!
Last week, the Miami Heat visited the White House to celebrate their 2013 NBA championship win. Rumor had it, during their visit, they teamed up with the First Lady in support of Let’s Move! to highlight the importance of eating healthy and drinking water to perform like a champion.
Catch all the action in the PSA they recorded right here in the Diplomatic Room! And help spread the word about healthy eating by sharing the video with your friends and networks!
In this week’s address, President Obama said 2014 will be a year of action, and called on both parties to help make this a breakthrough year for the United States by bringing back more good jobs and expanding opportunities for the middle class.
Today, First Lady Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite moments from the First Lady’s life. Starting from her days as little Michelle Robinson, all the way up to today, here are some of the best photos, videos, Instagram posts, Facebook posts and tweets of the First Lady of the United States.
1. Future First Lady Michelle Robinson grows up in Chicago, Illinois.
2. Michelle Robinson marries Barack Obama.
3. The Obama family grows from two to four.
4. The First Lady attends the inaugural balls with her date, the 44th President of the United States.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama share a private moment in a freight elevator at an Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C. January 20, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
5. Michelle Obama gets America moving and launches Let's Move!
First Lady Michelle Obama runs with kids during the "Let’s Move!" South Lawn series kick-off at the White House, May 25, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Expanding Educational Opportunity: And yesterday, a group of leaders in higher education joined the President and First Lady at the White House to take the next step toward ensuring that every child, rich or poor, has the opportunity for a quality college education so they can get ahead.
“We’ve got philanthropists and business leaders here; we’ve got leaders of innovative non-for-profits; we’ve got college presidents -- from state universities and historically black colleges to Ivy League universities and community colleges,” President Obama said. “More than 100 colleges and 40 organizations are announcing new commitments to help more young people not only go to, but graduate from college.” These leaders made the commitment to take action on areas crucial to making college a reality to more kids.
The day before, the First Lady hosted a discussion on education to support the President’s “North Star” Goal, which states that by 2020, Americans will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
America’s Newest High-Tech Manufacturing Hub: President Obama visited Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday to announce that Raleigh is going to be America’s newest manufacturing innovation hub. This new hub will bring leading companies, universities, and federal research together under one roof to help develop the next generation of power electronics. President Obama has proposed building a network of these hubs across the country to help make the United States a magnet for the good, high-tech manufacturing jobs that we need to grow the middle class and keep this country on the cutting edge.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration's review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programs, at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Today, President Obama delivered a speech at the Department of Justice to announce the outcomes of a broad-ranging and unprecedented review of U.S. intelligence programs.
The review examined how, in light of new and changing technologies, we can use our intelligence capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures.
As a part of the President’s Year of Action – and because there is no clearer path to economic opportunity than a college degree – the President and First Lady convened college and university presidents, business and philanthropic leaders, and other stakeholders from across the country at the White House yesterday to announce more than 100 new and meaningful commitments to expand college opportunity to help more students, particularly low-income students, afford and graduate from college with the skills they need to succeed.
The importance and success of the event is reflected in the coverage from all across the country – from California and Nebraska to Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
Here’s a look:
UT San Diego: “Leaders pledge to boost access to college”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Georgia colleges commit to improving access for low-income students”
Quad-City Times: “Augustana president meets with Obama at higher education summit”
Chicago Sun-Times: “Illinois schools part of White House push for low-income kids to attend college, university”
“The noblest question in the world is What Good may I do in it?” – Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1737
Today we celebrate the 308th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, who answered that question time and again as a writer, printer, inventor, American diplomat, and godfather to a free and independent nation. He was called “The First American” and was in many ways the very idea of what an American could and should be during the Founding Era of our nation.
You can now read every issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack, trace Franklin’s views on picking the turkey as our national emblem, pore through his autobiography, read the correspondence between Franklin and the leading thinkers of the day, and find the trove of letters written between Benjamin and his beloved sister Jane Mecom that show the personal side of the First American.
President Barack Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama and Bard College student Troy Simon, delivers remarks during the College Opportunity Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Jan. 16, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
With the growing demand for college-educated workers, a college education is one of the surest ways into the middle class.
The Obama administration has already taken a number of steps to help more students afford and graduate from college, including doubling Federal investments in Pell Grants and college tax credits, reforming student loans, and taking new steps to reduce college costs and improve value.
But while continuing to push for changes that keep college affordable for all students and families, President Obama believes that to lead the world in the share of college graduates by 2020, we can and must be doing more to get more low-income students prepared for college, enrolled in quality institutions, and graduating. And yesterday, a group of leaders in higher education joined the President and First Lady at the White House to take the next step toward ensuring that every child, rich or poor, has the opportunity for a quality college education so they can get ahead.