Read all posts from March 2010

  • President Barack Obama, surrounded by the family of Cesar Chavez and leaders of the United Farm Workers that Chavez co-founded, signs a proclamation in the Oval Office designating March 31, 2010, which would have been his 83rd birthday, as Cesar Chavez Day. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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    Today, I joined President Obama in welcoming the family of Cesar Chavez to the White House.  On what would have been his 83rd birthday, the President honored his family and his life’s work by proclaiming March 31, 2010 “Cesar Chavez Day.”

    Chavez was raised in a family of migrant farm workers.  In his youth and later in life, he led the charge for fair wages and safer working conditions after witnessing the abuses suffered by workers simply trying to earn a living. At the time, farm workers were deeply impoverished and often exploited by employers.  Rarely did they have access to safe drinking water or basic necessities like bathrooms, and they were routinely exposed to the harsh chemicals used to treat crops and fields.  

    Chavez could not sit idly by while such abuses occurred. He became an organizer, a leader and a voice for justice, bringing farm workers together to demand change through boycotts, strikes and other nonviolent demonstrations.  He established the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), which continues to champion his cause to this day. In fact, several of his family members continue to lead the UFW today.

    The legacy of Cesar Chavez is one that is alive and well, even within the walls of the White House.  Like Chavez, President Obama is also committed to giving communities the tools they need to grow stronger, more sustainable and more prosperous. The President knows that lasting change does not come from the top down, but rather, it comes from the bottom up, and he has encouraged all Americans to answer the call to public service—whether that means tutoring a child, creating a community garden, or helping needy residents to access necessary health care.  

    Valerie Jarrett is the Senior Advisor to the President

  • We just got back from the Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility where, housed in a hangar, the President stood before an F/A-18 jet that will run on biofuels this Earth Day, and outlined his energy security strategy to break our dependence on foreign oil.

    Our challenges are not insignificant: we have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, but are responsible for more than 20 percent of world consumption; we know that drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and that for our planet and our economic security, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now. Today’s announcement marks another significant step in the President’s agenda to do just that – a broader strategy, as he said, to “move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

    And as part of that strategy, in addition to developing oil and gas resources in new areas, the Administration is moving forward on many fronts to boost domestic energy production, diversify America’s energy portfolio and promote clean energy innovation:

    • Landmark Car and Truck Fuel Standards: On April 1st, EPA and DOT will sign a joint final rule establishing greenhouse gas emission standards and corporate average fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2012-2016. This measure is expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program.
    • Leading by Example – Greening the Federal Fleet: Last year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 asking Federal agencies to lead by example towards a clean energy economy. And GSA and DOE are doing just that by working to turn over their fleets with cleaner, hybrid vehicles.
    • Department of Defense Energy Security Strategic Emphasis: The Defense Department is actively pursuing strategic initiatives to enhance energy security and independence and reduce harmful emissions, and encouraging the development and use of domestically produced advanced biofuels, including what will be on Earth Day the first-ever flight of a fighter jet on a 50/50 biofuel blend.
    The President Examines the Green Hornet

    President Barack Obama looks at an F-18 'Green Hornet' jet, a biofuel powered fighter jet, following remarks on energy security at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, March 31, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, as then-Senator Obama did on the campaign trail, the President highlighted the importance of laying a comprehensive new foundation in energy security – not just the easy choices, but the tough ones too – that will help us to achieve energy independence. Today’s decision reflected those tough choices: a year’s worth of conversations, a public comment process at the Department of Interior that yielded more than 500,000 public comments, and an ever-present emphasis on sound science, robust environmental protection and permitting, and a set of balanced approaches, including boosting our development of renewable, homegrown fuels that will ultimately put our nation in a position to lead the world in the race for clean energy and economic security.

    If you’d like to learn more on the specifics of today’s outer continental shelf announcement, please find detailed information from the Department of Interior.

    Carol Browner is Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate

  • As part of the White House Forum for Workplace Flexibility, the CEA released a report today presenting an economic perspective on flexible workplace policies and practices.
     
    Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility (pdf) highlights changes in American society over the past half century, including the increased number of women entering the labor force, the prevalence of families where all adults work, increasing eldercare responsibilities, and the rising importance of continuing education. These changes are among those that have increased the need for flexibility in the workplace.

    This increased need can be met with flexibility in terms of when one works, where one works, or how much one works (including time off after childbirth or other life events). As such, “workplace flexibility” encompasses a variety of arrangements that allow workers to continue making productive contributions to the workforce while also attending to family and other responsibilities.

    Data suggest that many employers are adapting to the changing needs of their workers. For example, in 2007 over one-half of employers reported allowing at least some workers to periodically change their starting and quitting times, although there is variation across workers who have access to such arrangements. And while most employers offer at least some workers the ability to return to work gradually after a major life event such as the birth or adoption of a child, job sharing is less widespread and only about one-fifth of employers permit some of their employees to work from home on a regular basis.

  • Ed. Note: This post was bumped up to the top of the blog.

    In a unique event, the White House Council on Women and Girls will be hosting a Forum on Workplace Flexibility, opened by the First Lady.  Both the First Lady and the President, who will speak at the forum later in the day, will discuss the importance of creating a work environment that allows men and women to meet the demands of their jobs while balancing the needs of their families. CEOs, small business owners, labor leaders, and workplace policy experts will collaborate on ideas and strategies on how to make the workplace a more flexible place for American workers and families.

    The entire forum, including all five breakout sessions, will be streamed on WhiteHouse.gov/live.  In addition, much of the event will be streamed to Facebook and Ustream, and the White House will include comments taken through these social networks in the feedback given to the President and senior policy staff after the forum.  Head over starting at 1:15PM EDT.

  • For months, independent analysts have consistently debunked health insurance industry-funded studies claiming that health reform would lead to large price increases for people seeking insurance. The core flaw in these so-called studies - exposed again and again - is that they single out one aspect of reform and paint alarmist conclusions while ignoring all other aspects of the legislation that would reduce costs and make health care affordable for families.

    Disappointingly, we're now seeing similarly selective approaches to analyzing the impact of health reform from very different sources.  Yesterday, the AP published the results of a so-called analysis of the impact of health reform on younger Americans.  But as with prior flawed analyses, the AP report explicitly acknowledges that it looks only at the law's 'age rating' provisions in isolation, while completely ignoring the parts of this legislation that will reduce costs and increase access for young adults.  There are critical pieces of the legislation that this so-called analysis left out.

    First, a key omission from the second paragraph of the story:

    “Beginning in 2014, most Americans will be required to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. That's when premiums for young adults seeking coverage on the individual market would likely climb by 17 percent on average, or roughly $42 a month, according to an analysis of the plan conducted for The Associated Press. The analysis did not factor in tax credits to help offset the increase.” [Emphasis added]

    An analysis that selectively omits tax credits doesn’t look at the true impact of the legislation.  The reality is that under health reform, millions of young people will be entitled to tax credits to help them afford coverage.  A young single person making roughly $43,000 or less will qualify for credits to help him or her afford coverage.  A selective analysis of the cost to young people that excludes tax credits available to them is simply inaccurate.

    Second, the piece fails to mention that under health reform, young adults will have the option of purchasing a low-cost “young invincible” policy as an alternative to more comprehensive coverage.  Young adults will have the option of purchasing a lower level of coverage that meets their needs.  Those who still cannot afford coverage will qualify for a hardship waiver.  And of course, thanks to health reform, young adults will now be able to stay on their parents’ coverage until they turn 26.  As a result of health reform, young adults who previously would not have carried insurance will now have the security of knowing that they won’t be driven into debt by accident or illness as they are just starting their lives out on their own.

    Finally, it’s important to take a close look at the source of some of the analyses in the story.  For example, the piece cites research done by consulting firm Milliman, Inc. – a firm that has worked for the insurance industry for years.

    The bottom line is that the insurance industry will do everything within its power to fight these reforms that are going to take the power out of their hands and put it squarely in the hands of consumers.  So young adults should be sure to get the facts: health reform will make insurance more affordable for millions of Americans under the age of 30.

    Linda Douglass is with the White House Office of Health Reform

  • I wanted to point out something different we are trying out: an effort to connect with college newspapers across the country and get questions directly from students about the Obama Administration’s higher-ed agenda.  Next week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the chair of the President’s Domestic Policy Council, will answer questions in a special live chat from the White House. We are working with the Huffington Post’s network of college newspapers on the first phase and they give a run-down on the next steps:

    This is how it will work: Through our extensive network of college papers, students will submit questions to HuffPost College, which the entire HuffPost community will vote on. The top questions will be asked during the live chat -- and the editor of the school paper with the highest-rated question will be flown to the White House to interview top Obama officials.

    This new type of interview process is exciting, but the real news is what happened today when President Obama signed the Healthcare and Education Reconciliation legislation.  With the stroke of his pen, our Nation expanded the Pell Grant program, invested more in community colleges, increased support for minority serving institutions and ended wasteful subsidies in the student loan system that will free up nearly $68 billion dollars for college affordability and deficit reduction over the next 11 years.  Whew!

    Also, don't miss this great video from Dr. Jill Biden, who gives a good overview of the policy impact of today and encourages parents to take note as they start planning now for a younger child’s higher education.

  • After a year of intense debate and nearly a century of trying, President Obama signed into law a bill guaranteeing that all Americans have access to quality and affordable health care for the first time in our country’s history. But our job in government is not over.  As the President reminded us, we also have a solemn responsibility to make sure these changes are implemented carefully and effectively.  We have an equal responsibility to make sure you know what changes are coming and how to take advantage of these new benefits.

    To help you better understand the new health reform law, we are holding a live online Q&A session tomorrow evening, Wednesday March 31st, at 7:00 PM EDT at HealthReform.gov

    Yet rather than try and guess what questions you have for us, we wanted to give you the opportunity to ask us directly. So we are opening up the conversation to you.

    Email your questions in advance to Healthreform@hhs.gov. We will try our best to answer all of your questions. What we cannot get to tomorrow, we will address on our website afterwards.

    We understand that the new legislation is comprehensive and complicated.

    • Did you know that many small businesses qualify now for tax credits that will help them afford coverage for their workers? Find out what reform means for small businesses.
    • Are you a senior worried about hitting the prescription drug donut hole? You may be entitled to a rebate check this year.
    • Do you have a child with a pre-existing condition or about to graduate from college? Get the details about how health reform helps our Nation’s kids.

    Think about what questions you might have about how health reform will affect your family or business, and email them to Healthreform@hhs.gov.

    Then join me and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, at HealthReform.gov at 7:00 pm EDT tomorrow night for this online conversation.

    The work to fix our broken health care system has begun, and we want to make sure you’re informed every step of the way. It is very important to us that you know what changes are coming and how to take advantage of these new benefits.

    Karen Mills is the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration

  • Today at Northern Virginia Community College, President Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, the last step on health reform that provided fixes for some elements and which improved upon the core health reforms by increasing tax credits for the middle class, investing in community health centers, and strengthening efforts to fight waste and fraud.

    But the legislation also include another major priority of the President's that was often overshadowed by the health reform debate, as he explained: "But what’s gotten overlooked amid all the hoopla, all the drama of last week, is what happened in education -- when a great battle pitting the interests of the banks and financial institutions against the interests of students finally came to an end."   The President was referring to reform of student loans to make higher education more affordable, allowing students to get loans without relying on large banks as unnecessary middlemen, and saving American taxpayers $68 billion in the coming years.

    Members of Audience During Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010

    Members of the audience applaud as President Barack Obama delivers remarks before signing the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia, March 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The President explained that the government will reinvest the savings back into education by upgrading community colleges, increasing Pell Grants, and making it easier for responsible students to pay off their loans. Brian Levine from the Middle Class Task Force explains how the Income Based Repayment program will benefit students and help borrowers avoid unmanageable debt burdens here. The Act will also invest savings in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. 

    Joined by Dr. Jill Biden, who spoke on the boost for community colleges in a video here earlier today, the President explained that this law takes another important step to invest in the country's future through education:

    For a long time, our student loan system has worked for banks and financial institutions. Today, we’re finally making our student loan system work for students and our families.  But we’re also doing something more.

    From the moment I was sworn into office, I’ve spoken about the urgent need for us to lay a new foundation for our economy and for our future.  And two pillars of that foundation are health care and education, and each has long suffered from problems that we chose to kick down the road.

    With the bill I signed last week, we finally undertook meaningful reform of our health care system.  With this bill, and other steps we’ve pursued over the last year, we are finally undertaking meaningful reform in our higher education system.  So this week, we can rightly say the foundation on which America’s future will be built is stronger than it was one year ago. 

    Signing the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010

    President Barack Obama signs the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia, March 30, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

  • The President believes that for America to compete in the 21st century, we’ll need a highly educated workforce that is second to none. But one of the things holding us back from this achievement is soaring tuition costs at colleges and universities around the country. Too many students and families struggle to make ends meet just to fulfill the dream of a college education. And when students are unable to afford access to higher education or graduate with a degree, our economy suffers.

    That’s why President Obama signed today a historic piece of legislation that delivers real reforms and critical investments to our higher education system. By strengthening the Pell Grant program, investing in community colleges, extending support for Historically Black Colleges and other Minority Serving Institutions, and helping student borrowers manage their student loan debt, we will make college more affordable and enable more Americans to earn a college degree.

    Lifelong educators like Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, know how important these reforms will be to our higher education system.

    Download Video: mp4 (74MB)

    This legislation means $40 billion more dollars in the Pell Grant program to ensure that eligible students receive an award, and that awards increase to keep pace with rising tuition. And a $2 billion investment over four years for community colleges to develop, improve, and provide education and career training programs. Students will  be able to choose to limit their student loan payments to 10% of their income, with any remaining balance forgiven after 20 years. And public service workers can have their loans forgiven after 10 years.

    Because special interests have been benefiting from taxpayer subsidies for too long, we’re cutting out the middlemen by ending government subsidies currently given to banks and other financial institutions that make guaranteed federal student loans. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, ending these wasteful subsidies will free up nearly $68 billion for college affordability and deficit reduction over the next 11 years. So these investments are not only paid for, but they’ll reduce the deficit in the long run.

    Because of the legislation enacted today, we’re finally undertaking meaningful reform to our education system and making college more affordable and accessible.

    For more information on these federal student aid programs, please go to www.studentaid.ed.gov, or call 1-800-4FED-AID.

    Kalpen Modi is an Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement

  • The US Government this week launched Global Pulse 2010.  Global Pulse is a way to reach out to those affected by US policies and ask key questions and get ideas that will help us better shape these policies to improve lives around the world. 

    Between now and Wednesday, thousands of people from over 130 countries are participating together virtually  to find shared solutions to common challenges, engage with US foreign policy leadership, and simply connect with each other -- through an online event called Global Pulse 2010. What we hear will help inform how we can fulfill the President’s vision of a foreign policy based on mutual interest and mutual respect, including a more comprehensive engagement with the world around common challenges. Sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the Departments of State, Education, Commerce, and Health and Human Services, Global Pulse will engage participants to collaborate on discussions around pressing societal challenges, build upon each other’s contributions, and identify ways of moving forward. 

    As the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and someone who has worked throughout my career to spur entrepreneurship -- both social and business -- in countries across the world, I am proud to serve as a Jam Host for the forum Advancing Entrepreneurship, Trade and Economic Opportunity. In my first post, I challenged participants to define entrepreneurship and identify which policies best create a supportive environment for entrepreneurship at the national, regional, and local levels.  I look forward to learning from the diverse experiences shared in these conversations -- ranging from academia, government, civil society, non-profits, business and the private sector -- and understanding how to catalyze entrepreneurship and innovation in a way that best works in communities around the world.

    In his June 4, 2009 speech in Cairo, President Obama stated, “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from one another, and to seek common ground.”  Global Pulse 2010 answers this call to engage and partner with the international community in a meaningful way.  And you can still participate:  I encourage you to visit Global Pulse 2010 and join me and my colleagues from across the government in this conversation over the next few days.  We look forward to hearing from you.

    Sonal Shah is Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

  • Last January, I was privileged to participate in the White House Forum on Modernizing Government. The Forum brought together more than 50 CEOs from the nation’s leading organizations, deputy secretaries from cabinet agencies, labor union leadership, and senior White House Staff to discuss ideas for how government can use technology to save money and improve performance. During the Forum, I was able to participate in a breakout session with David Hayes, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Interior, on transforming government service. The discussion in this breakout session was both engaging and insightful, and focused on ideas for measuring customer satisfaction and improving the ways that the government can deliver services to the American people.

    As a follow-up to the Forum, I am pleased to announce that the Office of the Management and Budget has released a follow-up plan entitled “White House Forum on Modernizing Government: Overview and Next Steps” (pdf). The plan outlines guiding principles that emerged from the Forum as well as next steps to continue engaging the private sector in our efforts to improve government productivity. The plan also identifies two areas of immediate focus where private sector best practices have applicability to the Federal Government, and where we know there is a meaningful gap: IT Program Management and Customer Service.

    The eagerness of private sector leaders to lend their expertise, and that of their companies, to the common goal of improving Federal Government operations, represents one of the successes of the Forum. In response, we are also developing mechanisms for ongoing interaction and information sharing between government managers and private sector leaders, to build upon our open government efforts.

    In collaboration with my colleagues throughout the Federal Government, I look forward to implementing these recommendations and improving the technology our government uses to make government work better for the American people.

    Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Associate Director for Technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • That's Lisa Kohnke of the Office of Public Engagement to the President's right at the table, and Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki to his left, who you may know from such White House blogs as this one.

    President Barack Obama and the First Family mark the beginning of Passover with a Seder with friends and staff in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, March 29, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • Today, I made a historic announcement. Delaware and Tennessee have won grants in the first phase of Race to the Top.

    We received many strong proposals from states all across America, but two applications stood out above all others: Delaware and Tennessee. These states received the two highest scores in the competition.

    All along, we said we would set a very high bar for success because we know that real and meaningful change in public education will only come from doing hard work and setting the highest expectations.

    Both Delaware and Tennessee cleared that bar. They made commitments to raise their standards. They have strong plans to measure and support teacher effectiveness. Their schools rest on foundations rich with data, and they will be using this data to help teachers and principals accelerate student achievement. Both states have made deep commitments to turning around their struggling schools and their innovative plans reflect that commitment.

    Perhaps most importantly, every one of the districts in Delaware and Tennessee is committed to implementing the reforms in Race to the Top, and they have the support of the state leaders as well as their unions. We’re confident that all students in both states will benefit from this program. We will be working with them to finalize their budgets and will closely monitor whether they’re reaching their benchmarks over the course of the four years of their grants.

    Although we have two winners for Phase 1, every state that applied is a winner. Everyone who applied is helping to chart the path forward for education reform in America. And the biggest winners of all are the students.

    And the Race to the Top doesn’t end today.

    The good news is that about $3.4 billion remains to be awarded. Every other state in the country will have the opportunity to apply in the second phase. I want to challenge every state to put their best foot forward. Just by participating in the process, states are bringing people together to collaborate and create the policies that will accelerate student achievement.

    We will make a second round of grants. Applications for Phase 2 are due on June 1. That leaves time for states to do the hard work necessary to write the comprehensive plans necessary to succeed in school reform. I want to challenge every state to put their best foot forward. Just by participating in the process, states are bringing people together to collaborate and create the policies that will accelerate student achievement.

    We look forward to supporting that hard work in Phase 2 and beyond. President Obama has proposed an additional $1.35 billion for Race to the Top in fiscal 2011 so we can continue to support more states in moving reform forward.
     

  • Last Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Office of Public Engagement co-hosted a regional Fatherhood Forum near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, NC as a part of the President’s National Conversation on Responsible Fatherhood.  This event focused on how we can support military and veteran dads, especially those who are absent from their children and spouses because of service to their country.

    Secretary Shinseki Fatherhood Keynote

    Secretary Eric Shinseki delivers the keynote address at the Fatherhood Forum on Military and Veteran Fathers and Families while the panel looks on. March 25, 2010.

    As a part of the meeting, military and VA leaders learned about the challenges military and veteran dads and families encounter.  Veterans, active duty dads, mothers, community leaders, professors and chaplains facilitated break-out sessions where open and honest dialogue took place about gaps in services as well as the successful programs and activities to addresses those challenges.

    Specific topics of discussion include topics such as how congregations and community organizations can develop a program supporting military and veteran fathers and their families as well as discussions about the unique challenges faced by fathers who are also wounded warriors.  Through these roundtables, we learned the government as well as people, programs, and ministries must recognize negative impacts that service for our country can occur that require the commitment of time and resources to facilitate reintegration to self, family and community.

    At the evening’s Public Forum, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki gave the keynote address emphasizing that his job and that of VA is to serve veterans and give them the benefits and services they deserve. Sec. Shinseki and Michael Strautmanis, chief of staff in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, also heard stories from present and former military service members as well as the family member with individuals in the military. 

    One of the stories Secretary Shinseki heard was from Chaplain Captain Lee Hagwood.  After adjusting his career in the military to be more involved in the formative years for his four boys, Lee rejoined the military as a Chaplain and was deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan.  After the Forum, Chaplain Hagwood’s youngest son, Rueben, described some of the challenge he went through during his father’s deployment. 

    My father missing my 18th birthday was hard to accept because he has never missed any of my other birthdays.  However, his call to wish me a happy birthday was great! The fact that he took time out of his busy schedule while being away on his job for an important cause like serving his country made me feel as important in his life.

    We also had a wonderful time with NASCAR great Rick Crawford and were warmly hosted by Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, the Commanding General at Fort Bragg.  It was an honor to be among these soldiers and their families and have this historic conversation about supporting military and veteran dads.

    Secretary Shinseki Fatherhood General

    Secretary Eric Shinseki meets with Lt. General Frank Helmick, Commanding General at Fort Bragg. March 25, 2010.

    Rev. E. Terri LaVelle is the Director of Faith-Neighborhood Center at the Department of Veterans Affairs

  • As frequent readers of this blog know, the Middle Class Task Force developed a new Caregiver Initiative in the FY 2011 Budget to address the needs of the estimated 65 million Americans that provide unpaid care to seniors or people with disabilities. The historic health care legislation signed by the President  last Tuesday will complement and enhance the Task Force’s Initiative.  Let’s take a quick look at the ways in which health reform will help family caregivers and their loved ones.

    First, the health reform legislation includes a provision called the CLASS Act, which establishes a new, voluntary long-term care insurance program for workers aimed at allowing them in the event of a disability to assist them in accomplishing life’s daily activities. After a 5-year vesting period, participants who experience a functional limitation would receive a cash benefit that could be used to purchase services and supports needed to maintain their independence at home or in the community including things like home modifications, assistive technology, accessible transportation, homemaker services, personal assistance services, home care aides, and nursing support. CLASS Act benefits can be used to compensate family caregivers, who often make huge financial sacrifices. And receiving benefits from this program would not have any effect on eligibility for other government programs.
       
    Health reform will also provide much-needed support to Medicaid enrollees seeking home and community based services. Right now, there is a bias in the Medicaid program in favor of institutional rather than home and community-based care.  Under the Community First Choice Option in the health reform legislation, States can elect to provide with enhanced Federal funding self-directed, home and community-based attendant services and supports to Medicaid beneficiaries.  Additionally, the law provides additional funding for the Money Follows the Person program, which provides grants to states to help transition Medicaid-enrolled nursing home residents back into their communities.

    The health reform legislation also creates a new Medicare pilot program aimed at helping patients and caregivers successfully negotiate the transition from a hospital stay to their homes or other care settings. And it provides new funding for Aging and Disability Resource Centers, which provide information and assistance to caregivers and people with long-term care needs.

    Finally, the legislation establishes a nationwide system for States to run background check programs for employees of long-term care facilities and providers.  This proposal builds on a successful pilot program, which operated in seven states and kept thousands of individuals who had disqualifying records out of the long-term care workforce.  This new national system will give family members peace of mind by ensuring that all employees with direct access to patients have been screened.

    As we have said on this blog before, the Middle Class Task Force’s Caregiver Initiative is just one modest step towards addressing the needs of caregivers.  Health care reform marks another important step forward.

    Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

     

  • Today, the White House Council on Women and Girls and the US Department of Treasury hosts a “Women in Finance” Symposium at the Treasury Department. In the spirit of Women’s History Month, this event features discussions with prominent women who have risen to the top in what many still consider a predominantly male profession.   As someone who has worked in business and finance, I know how important these discussions are.  When I started my career in business, it was a pretty lonely world for women, but thanks to the talent and dedication of women such as Elizabeth Warren, Karen Mills and Carla Harris, that is not necessarily the case anymore.  This event not only serves to elevate awareness about the progress of women in the financial sector, but it is also our hope that it will inspire more young women to pursue financial careers of their own in the future.

    The event kicks off with a welcome by Treasurer Rosie Rios and remarks by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.  Following the Secretary’s comments, a panel moderated by Maria Bartiromo of CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” will discuss women’s roles in the economic recovery.  This topic could not be timelier. Women now account for more than half of the workforce. Additionally, men have suffered the brunt of job losses in the recent recession, meaning that more and more women have been entering the workforce and those that were in it already, are now working longer and harder to make up the difference and make ends meet.  Women are now economic engines, and their progress in the labor force is intrinsically tied to our future prosperity as a country. Panelists such as SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro and Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer, will also touch on how financial institutions, both public and private, have helped women in the recovery process.

    The second panel will discuss challenges to women in the finance field, followed by breakout sessions in which small groups will discuss how to address these challenges and will share their own experiences and success stories.  I have the privilege of wrapping up the day’s events with comments of my own about how the White House Council on Women and Girls is working to both support working women and those not yet in the workforce. Specifically, the Council is taking up the issue of workplace flexibility with a conference later in the week and by helping to integrate more flexible policies into the agencies.  The Council has also worked with the Department of Education to promote “STEM” education—education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  The Department of Education has offered incentives to the state school systems to include more girls and underrepresented students into STEM education.  And working with multiple entities, the Council is working to promote financial literacy into school curriculum and into the knowledge base of all young women. 

    April is “Financial Capabilities” month so stay tuned for more information on our financial literacy programs in the coming month.  And stay tuned for updates on all of the Council’s work!

    Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement

  • At 10:55 am ET (7:25 pm local), Air Force One touched down under the shroud of nightfall at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. President Obama had just made an unannounced 12 hour, 46 minute journey to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He would take a short flight aboard Marine One to Kabul where the two delegations convened. Following their meetings, the President returned to Bagram Air Base where he spoke to a crowd of U.S. and allied troops:

    Read the Transcript  |  Download Video: mp4 (249MB) | mp3 (19MB)

    In his remarks, President Obama reiterated the mission before the troops:

    Our broad mission is clear:  We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies.  That is our mission.  And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear:  We’re going to deny al Qaeda safe haven.  We’re going to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.  We’re going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.

    He also reminded the troops of his unwavering support, noting efforts to improve pay and benefits, improving care for the wounded, moving forward with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and increasing the VA budget.

    And I know that sometimes when you’re watching TV, the politics back home may look a little messy, and people are yelling and hollering, and Democrats this and Republicans that.  I want you to understand this:  There’s no daylight when it comes to support of all of you.  There’s no daylight when it comes to supporting our troops.  That brings us together.  We are all incredibly proud.  We all honor what you do.  And all of you show all of America what’s possible when people come together, not based on color or creed, not based on faith or station, but based on a commitment to serve together, to bleed together and to succeed together as one people, as Americans.

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  • Faced with an unprecedented level of obstruction in the Senate, the President announced his intention to recess appoint fifteen nominees to fill critical administration posts. While the President respects the critical role the Senate plays in the appointment process, he was no longer willing to let another month go by with key economic positions unfilled, especially at a time when our country is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
     
    Many of these fifteen individuals have enjoyed broad bipartisan support, but have found their confirmation votes delayed for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications. It has more to do with an obstruction-at-all-costs mentality that we’ve been faced with since the President came into office. Because of political posturing, these fifteen appointees have waited an average of 214 days for Senate confirmation.
     
    This opposition got so out of hand at one point that one senator put a blanket hold on all of the President’s nominees in an attempt to win concessions on two projects that would benefit his state. And another nominee’s confirmation was delayed by one senator for more than eight months because of a disagreement over a proposed federal building in his home state. When that nominee was finally given the vote she deserved, she was confirmed 96 to 0. When you attempt to prevent the government from working effectively because you didn’t get your way, you’re failing to live up to your responsibilities as a public servant.
     
    To put this in perspective, at this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month. And cloture has been filed 16 times on Obama nominees, nine of whom were subsequently confirmed with 60 or more votes or by voice vote. Cloture was not filed on a single Bush nominee in his first year. And despite facing significantly less opposition, President Bush had already made 10 recess appointments by this point in his presidency and he made another five over the spring recess.
     
    A few more numbers to put this in perspective:

    • These fifteen nominees have been waiting a total of 3,204 days or almost nine years to start their respective jobs.
    • Even the most recently nominated of these fifteen individuals has been waiting 144 days or nearly five months.
    • Jeffrey Goldstein was nominated to serve as the top domestic finance official at Treasury, a crucial position for fixing the economy and preventing another financial crisis. Goldstein has been waiting 248 days or over 8 months.
    • Jacqueline Berrien was nominated to serve as Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC currently lacks a quorum and cannot fulfill its mandate to protect American workers from discrimination. Berrien has been waiting 254 days or over 8 months.
    • Craig Becker and Mark Pearce were nominated to serve on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which protects American workers from unfair labor practices. The five member board has been trying to operate with only two members. Becker and Pearce have been waiting for 261 days or over 8 months. 

    The roadblocks we’ve seen in the Senate have left some government agencies like the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission impaired in fulfilling their mission. These agencies can now get back to working for the American people.
     
    These nominees will remain pending before the Senate for what we hope will be the expeditious confirmation  that candidates of their caliber deserve. But we also hope that this politically motivated gridlock comes to an end, because each day we dedicate to a strategy aimed at gumming up the works of our government is another day we aren’t doing right by the American people.

    Jen Psaki is the White House's Deputy Communications Director

  • After a long, and historically snowy winter here in Washington DC, we harvested our winter crop on March 10th.  We have been enjoying the lettuce, spinach, turnips, carrots, and greens ever since. From the beginning, we wanted to demonstrate that a four-season garden was indeed possible even in Washington D.C.  As it turned out, this winter was harsher than most and in fact more like the ones typical to Chicago, with the city experiencing over two feet of snow one week!

    Download Video: mp4 (61MB)

    Farmers and gardeners around the world are extending their growing seasons through the very simple technology of hoop houses. We used a smaller version that is often referred to as high tunnels. The structures are simply a series of four or five metal bars arched over the beds about three feet high. Fixed to the bars is a simple plastic covering which traps the heat of the sun during the day to keep the plants from freezing at night.  

    We were cautiously optimistic that our hoop houses would protect the crops and were pleasantly surprised.  All told we harvested just under 50lbs of produce. A modest harvest compared to what the summer had brought, but it is exciting to have been able to produce food during a long harsh winter. The lettuce and spinach are particularly sweet and delicious. We also learned a few things. For example, we planted our carrots a little too late. They were not as big as we had hoped, but the little things are tasty!  We also discovered that the beds to the north side of the garden get considerably more sun the beds that the beds on south side. The sun is much lower in the sky and late in the day the southern beds are shadowed by surrounding trees. Next year, we will be sure to put plants that need more sun on the north side of the garden. Good lessons to learn, but all together a nice surprise.

    Over the next few weeks we will be getting the garden ready for our spring planting. Seeds are being sprouted and at the First Lady’s request we have expanded the garden by 500 square feet so we can grow even more varieties of fruits and vegetables. Needless to say we are excited for Spring so stay tuned!

  • The President looks back on a week that saw the passage of two major sets of reforms: one putting Americans in control of their own health care, and one ensuring student loans work for students and families, not as subsidies for bankers and middlemen.

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