here are 37 million poor Americans. Most poor Americans are in the workforce, yet still cannot afford to make ends meet. And too many poor Americans are single mothers who are raising children.
"...at the dawn of the 21st century we also have a collective responsibility to recommit ourselves to the dream; to strengthen that safety net, put the rungs back on that ladder to the middle-class, and give every family the chance that so many of our parents and grandparents had. This responsibility is one that's been missing from Washington for far too long -- a responsibility I intend to take very seriously as President."
- Barack Obama
Spartanburg, South Carolina, 06/15/07
Barack Obama has been a lifelong advocate for the poor -- as a young college graduate, he rejected the high salaries of corporate America and moved to the South Side of Chicago to work as a community organizer. As an organizer, Obama worked with churches, Chicago residents and local government to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after school programs for kids.
Obama later took these important experiences to the Illinois State Senate and the United States Senate, where he has been a consistent proponent of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), creating a living wage, ensuring low-income students have access to the best and brightest teachers, lowering the costs of college education, and helping Americans purchase their own homes without relying on predatory mortgage lenders. As president, Barack Obama will continue to fight for meaningful opportunities for low-income Americans to join the middle class.
Expand Transitional Jobs and Bridge Programs
Transitional jobs are a promising way to help chronically unemployed people break into the workplace. This approach places participants into temporary, subsidized wage-paying jobs. It also offers mentoring and social services designed to address the work-blocking problems like personal and family conflicts. Obama supports providing funding for both transitional jobs programs as well as bridge programs that partner the federal government with employers and community-based organizations to identify job opportunities, develop customized training programs, and place low-income employees in better jobs.
Create Career Pathways for Workers to Move up the Ladder
Barack Obama believes that all workers who want a job should not only be able to gain meaningful employment, but also be able to move up the career ladder to further support their families and serve as role models for their children. Obama has introduced legislation to help strengthen career ladders by first identifying regions and industries where career pathways are not fully developed and then establish public-private partnerships to lift up low-wage workers. Obama supports using the successful organized labor model of providing workers with additional skills and opportunities, and looks forward to working with organized labor to build more opportunities for low-income workers to reach economic security.
Ensure Freedom to Unionize
Barack Obama believes that workers should have the freedom to join a union without harassment or intimidation from their employers. Although an estimated 60 million Americans would join a union if given the opportunity, companies too often evade employment laws and deny workers the opportunity to organize and advocate for their rights. Obama is a cosponsor and strong advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to make the unionization process more transparent and increase penalties on companies that violate employee rights. He voted in favor of the legislation this year and will continue to fight for its passage. Obama also will fight to make the card check process more common and less difficult.
Help Youth Connect with Growing Job Sectors
Barack Obama will create the 5-E (Energy Efficiency, Environmental Education and Employment) Disconnected Youth Service Corps. This program would directly engage disconnected and disadvantaged youth in energy efficiency and environmental service opportunities to strengthen their communities while also providing them with practical skills and experience in important career fields of expected high-growth employment. The program would engage private sector employers and unions to provide apprenticeship opportunities. The program also encourages summer high school students to stay in school, and provides GED help and other wrap-around social services for drop-outs.
Improve Transportation Access to Jobs
Three quarters of welfare recipients live in areas that are poorly served by public transportation and low-income workers spend up to 36% of their incomes on transportation. As president, Obama will work to eliminate transportation disparities so that all Americans can lead meaningful and productive lives. Obama will strengthen the federal Jobs Access and Reverse Commute program to ensure that additional federal public transportation dollars flow to the highest-need communities and that urban planning initiatives take this aspect of transportation policy into account.
Increasing Minority Access to Capital
Access to capital is critically important to the development of minority-owned businesses. Yet there has been a growing gap between the amounts of venture capital and access to business loans available to minority-owned small businesses compared to other small businesses. Less than 1 percent of the $250 billion in venture capital dollars invested annually nationwide has been directed to the country's 4.4 million minority business owners. A recent study found that minority business owners, even if they have the same characteristics as other business owners, are significantly denied credit more frequently and required to pay higher interest rates than white applicants. To compound this problem, in recent years there has been a significant decline in the share of the Small Business Investment Company financings that have gone to minority-owned and women-owned businesses. In order to increase their size, capacity, and ability to do business with the Federal government and to compete in the open market, minority firms need greater access to venture capital investment, as well as greater access to business loans. Barack Obama will strengthen Small Business Administration programs that provide capital to minority-owned businesses, support outreach programs that help minority business owners apply for loans, and work to encourage the growth and capacity of minority firms.
Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports
America is facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis in urban communities. Today, nearly 2 million children have a parent in a correctional facility. Barack Obama recognizes that it is simply unacceptable to keep ignoring this crisis in American families and communities. In the U.S. Senate, Obama has worked to provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling, and employment opportunities to ex-offenders. In addition to signing these important programs into law, Obama will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work Partnership to create ties with employers, third-party agencies that provide training and support services to ex-offenders, and to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates. Obama will also work on initiatives to reduce barriers in state correctional systems that prevent finding and maintaining employment.
Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit
In both the Illinois State Senate and the U.S. Senate, Obama has championed efforts to expand the EITC, which is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs to date. As president, Obama will increase the number of working parents eligible for EITC benefits, increase the benefits available to parents who support their children through child support payments, and reduce the EITC marriage penalty which hurts low-income families. Under the Obama plan, full-time workers making minimum wage would get an EITC benefit up to $555, more than three times greater than the $175 benefit they get today. If the workers are responsibly supporting their children on child support, the Obama plan would give those workers a benefit of $1,110.
Create a Living Wage
Barack Obama believes that people who work full time should not live in poverty. As president, Obama would raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure that full-time workers can earn a living wage that allows them to raise their families and pay for basic needs such as food, transportation, and housing -- things so many people take for granted. Before the Democrats took back Congress, the minimum wage had not changed in 10 years. Even when it rises to $7.25 an hour by 2009, the minimum wage's real purchasing power will still be below what it was in 1968.
Support Low-Income Families
The Child Tax Credit allows parents to receive $1,000 per child and has been an important financial resource for working families. Unfortunately, the credit is skewed so that many families who need it the most cannot get it. Because of high income limits that are indexed to inflation, parents who work full time at minimum wage are not eligible for the credit. As a result, nearly 17 million low-income children get less than the full credit. Barack Obama worked with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to introduce legislation lowering the income limit so that 600,000 more families can benefit from the credit.
Promote Responsible Fatherhood
Since 1960, the number of American children without fathers in their lives has quadrupled, from 6 million to more than 24 million. Children without fathers in their lives are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. Barack Obama has re-introduced the Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act to 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 legislation would also fund support services for fathers and their families, including domestic violence prevention efforts. As President, he will sign this bill into law and continue to implement innovative measures to strengthen families.
Support Parents with Young Children
Barack Obama would expand the highly-successful Nurse-Family Partnership to all low-income, first-time mothers. The Nurse-Family Partnership provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families. The trained nurses use proven methods to help improve the mental and physical health of the family by providing counseling on substance abuse, creating and achieving personal goals, and effective methods of nurturing children. Proven benefits of these types of programs include improved women's prenatal health, a reduction in childhood injuries, fewer unintended subsequent pregnancies, increased father involvement and women's employment, reduced use of welfare and food stamps, and increased children's school readiness. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis concluded that these programs produced an average of five dollars in savings for every dollar invested and produced more than $28,000 in net savings for every high-risk family enrolled in the program. The Obama plan would assist approximately 570,000 first-time mothers each year.
Expand Paid Medical Leave
Today, three-out-of-four low-wage workers have no paid sick leave. It is fundamentally unfair that a parent playing by the rules can get fired or lose wages because their child gets sick. Barack Obama supports efforts to guarantee workers seven days of paid sick leave per year, a proposal that will not impose an onerous burden on employers.
Increase Funding for Head Start
Research shows that many poor and minority children do not enter kindergarten ready to learn. Black children start school substantially behind white children in reading and math, and these early achievement gaps expand throughout elementary school. Barack Obama supports increasing funding for the Head Start program to provide low-income preschool children with critically important learning skills, and supports the necessary role of parental involvement in the success of Head Start.
Place High-Quality Teachers in Low-Income Classrooms
Some studies have indicated that the most important factor in a child's education is the quality of their teacher. Barack Obama introduced a plan to support school districts that try new methods to improve student achievement and reward high-quality teachers and school leaders. Under his initiative, 20 districts across the country will get grants to develop innovative plans in consultation with their teacher unions. High-performing teachers, and those who take on new responsibilities, such as working at struggling schools and mentoring new teachers, will be eligible for pay increases beyond their base salary. These innovation districts will show results that can be replicated in other school districts.
Extend Summer School Opportunities to Low-Income Students
Students lose an average of two months or more worth of math facts and skills during the summer, with the largest learning loss affecting children who live in poverty, suffer from learning disabilities, or do not speak English at home. Barack Obama's "STEP UP" plan addresses the achievement gaps among grade-school children by supporting summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children through partnerships between local schools and community organizations.
Make College More Affordable
College tuition rates are rising almost 10 percent a year. These surging tuitions priced over 200,000 students out of college altogether in 2004. Two decades ago, the Pell maximum grant covered 55 percent of costs at a public four-year college, compared with only 32 percent today. The very first bill Barack Obama introduced in the U.S. Senate was a bill to help make college more affordable by increasing the maximum Pell Grant amount to $5,100. Barack Obama will also eliminate wasteful subsidies to private banks under the federal student loan program. Reforming this program will save taxpayers billions of dollars each year -- money that Obama will direct to fund need-based grants, such as the Pell Grant.
Create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund
In too many communities, low-income families are priced out of the housing market. Between 1993 and 2003, the number of units of affordable to low-income households fell by 1.2 million. Barack Obama believes we should create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund to develop affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund would use a small percentage of the profits of two government-sponsored housing agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to create up to 14,000 new units of affordable housing every year.
Combat Mortgage Fraud and Subprime Loans
There is a growing epidemic of mortgage fraud crimes in which sophisticated scam artists cheat homeowners out of their mortgages. Some have estimated that more than 2 million homeowners with subprime mortgages are at risk of losing their homes. Barack Obama believes we must establish stiff penalties to deter fraud and protect consumers against abusive lending practices. Obama introduced the STOP FRAUD Act that would increase funding for federal law enforcement programs, create new criminal penalties for mortgage professionals found guilty of fraud, and require industry insiders to report suspicious activity. This bill also provides counseling to homeowners and tenants to avoid foreclosures. In the Illinois State Legislature, Obama cosponsored a bill creating the High Risk Home Loan Act to protect borrowers who enter into high-risk home loans. As president, Obama will continue to fight to ensure more Americans can achieve and protect the dream of home ownership.
Fully Fund the Community Development Block Grant
The Bush Administration has consistently attempted to cut funding for CDBG, by $1.2 billion next year and $6.9 billion over the next five years. Obama has fought against these cuts, and will restore funding for the CDBG program, which supports economic development and affordable housing opportunities in communities throughout the country.
Provide Universal Health Care and Lower Health Costs
Barack Obama is committed to signing universal health legislation that ensures all Americans have high-quality, affordable health care coverage by the end of his first term in office. His plan will save a typical American family up to $2,500 every year on medical expenditures by providing affordable, comprehensive and portable health coverage for every American; modernizing the U.S. health care system to contain spiraling health care costs and improve the quality of patient care; and promoting prevention and strengthening public health to prevent disease and protect against natural and man-made disasters.
Fight Health Disparities
Barack Obama cosponsored the Minority Health Improvement and Health Disparity Elimination Act to understand the root causes of health disparities and to start addressing them. The bill puts new emphasis on disparity research by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to collect and report health care data by race and ethnicity, as well as geographic and socioeconomic status and level of health literacy. The legislation outlines mechanisms to conduct educational outreach, increase diversity among health care professionals, and improve the delivery of health care to minorities and other under served groups.
Foster Healthy Communities
How a community is designed -- including the layout of its roads, buildings and parks -- has a huge impact on the health of its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and less than half of our country's children have a playground within walking distance of their homes. This lack of a safe place to walk and play is a major contributor to the growing numbers of overweight children. Barack Obama introduced the Healthy Places Act to help local governments assess the health impact of new policies and projects, like highways or shopping centers. Once the health impact is determined, the bill gives grant funding and technical assistance to help address potential health problems.
Rebuild New Orleans
Senator Obama not only led criticism of the Bush Administration's response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, he also helped lead Congressional efforts to bring effective and prompt relief to the Gulf Coast. Obama worked with the Congressional Black Caucus to introduce the Hurricane Katrina Recovery Act of 2006 which provides comprehensive federal supports for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the reconstruction of New Orleans. Additionally, Obama worked to:
* Strengthen Accountability on Behalf of Katrina Victims: In wake of reports of no-bid construction contracts and administrative waste in the Katrina relief process, Barack Obama worked to create a Chief Financial Officer for federal spending on the Gulf Coast to ensure that money is spent appropriately and that all contracts were accessible to local businesses, including small and minority owned firms, through fair and open competition.
* Expand and Streamline the Child Tax Credit: Barack Obama worked to make all working families that were victims of Hurricane Katrina eligible for an expanded and refundable Child Tax Credit.
* Passed Legislation for "Special Needs" Disaster Planning: Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the federal government did not require localities to make specific plans for safeguarding Americans with special needs. Senator Obama championed legislation, that was signed into law, to require special needs planning for future disasters, whether they be man-made or natural.