Our Top Stories
April 29, 2010
12:02 PM EDT
Each day 14 workers die in our country from traumatic injuries. That means more than 5,000 people are killed on the job every year. Tens of thousands more die each year of work related diseases. In addition, more than 4.6 million are seriously injured. While those numbers are alarming enough, what troubles me is that most – if not all of these – are injuries and fatalities that could have been easily prevented.
Yesterday, on Workers Memorial Day, we remembered those killed on the job and recommitted ourselves to ensuring that future tragedies are prevented. As a part of this effort and the Department of Labor’s continued emphasis on greater transparency, through the White House Open Government Initiative, we released 15 years of valuable data detailing workplace exposure to toxic chemicals.
This Chemical Exposure Health Data is comprised of measurements taken during the course of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspections and includes exposure levels to hazardous chemicals including asbestos, benzene, beryllium, cadmium, lead, nickel, silica, and others.
Making this dataset available to the public for the first time will offer new insight into the levels of toxic chemicals commonly found in workplaces, as well as how exposures to specific chemicals are distributed across industries, geographical areas and time. This information will ultimately lead to a more robust and focused debate on what still needs to be done to protect workers in all sectors, especially in the chemical industry.
So what does this mean for you? For starters, those of you who are technically inclined, please help develop software (e.g. search and visualization tools) to enable all of us to know if any chemical hazards have been reported in our workplace or see which occupations have a greater risk of exposure to certain chemicals. This information is also a great way to make sure that companies and businesses in your area are doing all that they can to minimize chemical exposure as your neighbors. You could even combine our data with other useful datasets like the National Institutes of Health “Haz-Map” database to help diagnose exposure related illnesses more quickly. If you build any useful tools using this data, let us know by submitting your tool via the Developer’s Corner on Data.gov. Most importantly, whether you’re a software developer, an employer, or a worker – with this data you’ll be able to arm yourself with the information you need to make your workplace a safer workplace.
The mission of the Department of Labor as a worker protection agency is more clear and needed than ever and opening this data to the public is a valuable means of strengthening the tools available to us. With a renewed emphasis on protecting workers and businesses that do the right thing, our goal is simple: Save Lives.
Dr. David Michaels is the Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.
April 29, 2010
11:50 AM EDT
It snuck up on us a bit, but yesterday we uploaded our 1,000th video to YouTube. From day one of this Administration, we have made it a priority to make freely available to the public as much video content as we can in service of President Obama's commitment to an open and transparent government. Toward that goal, we launched the official White House channel on YouTube on Inauguration Day, with the President's Inaugural Address as our most watched YouTube video to date at 1.3 million views. This channel has continued to be an online venue for people around the globe to view everything from press briefings to speeches to the President's Weekly Address to feature videos that open up the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in new and fun ways.
April 29, 2010
10:30 AM EDT
President Obama's commitment to improving the Nation's education system, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math, can be seen in the wide array of events and initiatives the President has taken part in, including Astronomy Night at the White House, the launch of the Educate to Innovate campaign, and bringing science into this year's White House Easter Egg Roll.
However, the President's commitment can only be the beginning. The real work starts with our Nation's teachers and students at all levels—especially early on. That's why we would like to highlight a unique and innovative lesson plan developed by Caitlin McCabe, a fifth grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in Poughkeepsie, NY. We wanted to share Ms. McCabe's idea with people across America to inspire similar novel concepts.
Ms. McCabe thought of a great way to get her students engaged and interested in science by focusing on the National Medal of Science Awards administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation (NSF). She and her class created their own Medal of Science Award process in which each student researched and learned about a different famous scientist and then drafted a formal nomination as though it was to be submitted to the NSF. In fact, they went the extra mile and actually DID send in their nominations to the NSF, making their best case for why Ralph Baer (widely known as "The Father of Video Games"), Bill Gates, Marie Curie, and other icons should win the coveted Presidential award.
And who says Government is unresponsive? Mayra Montrose, Program Manager for the National Medal of Science at NSF, answered all of the nomination letters with personalized responses, thanking them for their nomination. She also provided NSF patches and rulers to each student. In the end, it was the students themselves who chose the winners: first place, Baer; second place, Walt Disney; and third place, Hippocrates.
Along with the photos (all courtesy of Ms. McCabe), we have included the lesson plan developed by Ms. McCabe, student score sheet, student letters and "biopoems" about their nominees, as well as Montrose's letters back to the students. Additionally, we got in touch with Ms. McCabe and asked her a few questions about how and why she developed such an interesting program:
This photo of Ms. Caitlin McCabe's fifth grade class at Oak Grove Elementary School shows some of the posters the students created as well as the letters and patches they received from the National Science Foundation.
Jared BernsteinApril 28, 2010
07:23 PM EDT
Yesterday, Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Geithner traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a Middle Class Task Force (MCTF) meeting about the need for Wall Street reform. Why, you might, would the VP’s MCTF take up the cause of reforming the way financial markets work—or don’t work?
Because the outcome of this debate—the policies that ultimately come out of it—are of great importance to the economic lives of middle-class families.
Speaking at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin’s Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business, the Vice President stressed two reasons why this matters so much. First, the meltdown might have emanated from Wall Street, but it reached Main Street with a vengeance. The Great Recession was born of a housing bubble inflated by negligent oversight, the absence of transparency in key financial markets, and a reckless pursuit of risk that brought this economy to the brink of depression. The result is all too well known: millions of jobs lost, housing values and retirement savings decimated, small businesses shuttered, and an already-pinched middle class squeezed even harder.
Second, and this may be a little hard to believe right now, the VP reminded us that the stock market exists for a good reason. When it’s working properly, it directs capital to the most productive investments in order to make something real and useful for society’s benefit, creating good, middle-class jobs along the way.
Historically, at least when it wasn’t beset by reckless speculation, the financial system played a key role in our economy, doing everything from financing the next great industry, to helping firms borrow money for investments in factories, to providing the overnight lending needed to stock shelves in the mall.
In fact, this system is so important that you can’t have a healthy economy without it. But regulators, lulled by fairy tales of self-correcting markets, fell asleep at the switch, and Wall Street went from playing a productive role in our economy by distributing capital to useful investments to playing an actively destructive role by diverting that capital into their own private casinos.
There’s no way the middle class can get their fair share of the growth when that’s happening.
After they spoke, Vice President Biden and Secretary Geithner opened up a discussion with the public, taking questions from the audience about Wall Street reform. We got some great questions, which gave the Vice President and the Secretary a perfect opportunity to explain why we’ve proposed the reforms that we have, and how those reforms will prevent another painful financial crisis like the one we just experienced.
We’ve just learned that the Senate has allowed debate to begin debate on this critical legislation. Our nation now has a historic opportunity to reform this central aspect of our economy. In the name of the great American middle class, it is an opportunity we must not squander.
Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President
Jen PsakiApril 28, 2010
07:11 PM EDT
As the Senate considers the Wall Street reform bill, military families are continuing to fall victim to predatory lenders and abusive auto lending practices -- and lobbyists for the industry are hoping to make sure it stays that way by getting a carve-out into Wall Street reform.
Military families have been a target of unscrupulous lenders because of their demographic characteristics. Often, for recently enlisted soldiers and sailors, their steady paycheck means the chance for deceptive lenders to lure them into easy credit offers. And many experienced military families struggling with daily expenses such as child care in the face of deployments and frequent moves have become targets for deceptive lenders.
Undersecretary of Defense Clifford Stanley recently sent a letter to Michael Barr, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Institutions, that states the “personal financial readiness of our troops and families equates to mission readiness.” He reports that 72 percent of military financial counselors surveyed had counseled Service members on auto lending abuses in the past six months.
How can this possibly be happening?
Wall Street buys and packages auto loans made by dealers into securities. Wall Street pays dealers more for loans that have higher interest rates than borrowers qualify for. This gives dealers selling to Wall Street a perverse incentive to charge higher rates. This is the exact same dynamic that encourages abuses in the mortgage market and hurts community banks. Like auto dealer-lenders, mortgage brokers are paid to sell loans at higher rates than borrowers qualify for. Looking to get the highest commissions possible, mortgage brokers and some dealer-lenders steer families toward these Wall Street loans instead of towards the community banks and credit unions that often offer better loans.
This incentive leads some dealer-lenders to devise other ways to charge higher rates too. Sometimes a dealer-lender sends the buyer home with a "purchased" car and calls a few days later to say that the financing “fell through.” The dealer-lender gives the borrower the choice of giving up the car or paying a higher interest rate.
Dealer-lenders can also receive commissions to sell expensive add-ons to the loans, such as extended warranties. Dealer-lenders can obscure the cost of add-ons, which can be thousands of dollars, by emphasizing that they only moderately increase the monthly loan payment.
At a time when thousands of servicemen and women are overseas, it is unthinkable that we are not taking the steps to shield their families from financial ruin and ensure they are not targeted and victimized by predatory and abusive lenders.
Those who argue that rules of the road will somehow make auto loans more expensive have it backwards. The consumer financial protection agency will set strong, consistent rules of the road that will bring more transparency for consumers about what they're getting and what they're paying for it. That means lower prices, higher quality, or both.
The consumer financial protection agency will put in place strong protections for consumers, including:
- For Mortgages. The piles of forms needed for a mortgage can be overwhelming, and many lenders and brokers have taken advantage of that confusion to sell borrowers loans they couldn’t afford. The consumer financial protection agency will be required to consolidate and simplify two overlapping and sometimes inconsistent federal mortgage forms.
- For Credit Cards. The consumer agency will enforce the new credit card law that bans rate hikes on existing balances and other unfair practices. Military families who sometimes use credit cards to get by when times are tight will benefit from strong protections.
- For Overdrafts. The consumer agency would help enforce new rules that give consumers a real choice as to whether to join expensive overdraft programs and make sure banks don’t find ways to unfairly manipulate consumers and to take away their choice.
- For Payday Loans, Credit Bureaus, Debt Collectors, and Other Nonbanks. For the first time, a federal agency whose mission is to protect consumers for financial products and services would establish fair rules of the road for financial providers such as check cashers, payday lenders, credit bureaus, debt collectors, and mortgage brokers.
Jen Psaki is Deputy Communications Director
Carol BrownerApril 28, 2010
06:46 PM EDT
Over the past two days, President Obama traveled to Iowa, Missouri and Illinois as part of his Main Street tour. He witnessed the hardships that Americans are facing from the economic crisis that plagues our nation. However, he also witnessed the possibilities and opportunities for growth that are happening all over the country, through investment in our clean energy economy.
Tuesday, the President visited a Siemens Wind Blade Turbine Manufacturing Plant in Fort Madison, Iowa. He spoke of how just a few years ago, the plant was silent and empty, a possibility yet unfulfilled. Yet now, thanks to a $3.5 million 48c tax credit funded by the Recovery Act, it employs more than 600 people, two-thirds of whom were previously without work. In addition, it supports 350 more jobs throughout Lee County, employing everyone from electricians to grocers.
After traveling throughout Iowa, touring a farm and holding a town hall meeting at a Community College, on Wednesday the President headed to Macon, Missouri. Macon is home to the POET Biorefinery, a plant that produces ethanol from crops grown right here in the United States.
Families in Macon and Fort Madison, like many others across this nation, know all-too-well the hardships of this recession. But these towns, and many others across the country, are getting back to their feet – and we are doing all we can to help. Last year we made the largest investment in the clean energy economy in our nation’s history, which is expected to create more than 700,000 jobs by the end of 2012. These are jobs not just in providing the parts and technology to create power from the wind or fuels from the land, but in manufacturing solar panels, in building the wires and mechanics behind our smart meters, in creating next generation batteries – the list goes on.
Other nations realize that the country that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the 21st century global economy. The President is dedicated to making the United States that country – and is inspired by the small towns across rural America that provide the backbone for this effort. Towns like Macon and Fort Madison can be models around this country, and I’m confident one day we’ll look back to these places as some of the engines of this new clean energy future.
As extraordinary the work that towns like Macon and Fort Madison are doing, these plants can’t solve all our energy challenges alone. But their work is a key part of a comprehensive strategy to move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the President knows we can come together on this issue and pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will spur a new generation of clean energy industries, create good American jobs, and enhance our energy security.
Carol Browner is the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.
Dan PfeifferApril 28, 2010
06:05 PM EDT
One of the most important reforms included in the Affordable Care Act is the ban on what the insurance companies call “rescissions” – cancelling your coverage when you get sick. The ban wasn’t scheduled to go into effect until September, but in a clear sign of momentum for changing the health care status quo, the health insurance industry announced today that they’ll be complying with the ban starting in May. Today’s announcement follows public outrage over news that Wellpoint, a major insurer, specifically targeted for cancellation women suffering from breast cancer.
Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, released the following statement welcoming the news:
“Health reform made rescissions illegal because all Americans should be able to rely on quality care when they need it most. It’s heartening to see that the insurance companies who employed these terrible practices – and fought reform – are coming around doing the right thing by instituting the ban right away. We’ll be watching closely and holding them to their word.”
Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director
Jesse LeeApril 28, 2010
05:58 PM EDT
This afternoon, President Obama visited the POET Biorefining plant in Macon, Missouri, and commended POET for helping stake America’s claim on the future in clean energy. Discussing the significance of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and creating energy security, the President said that “the country that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the 21st century economy.”
Noting the signs of progress on the economy, he said that “our markets are climbing again and our businesses are beginning to create jobs again” but also said that “recovery hasn’t reached everybody yet.” The President explained that the administration has already taken a series of steps to prevent an immediate catstrophe, and while “some of those decisions weren’t popular, they were the right ones.” He talked about moving forward by laying a new foundation for America’s prosperity:
I didn’t run for President just to get back to where we were; I ran for President so that we could move forward and finally start dealing with some of the problems that we’ve had for a very long time. I want our economy to be on a new foundation for long-term growth and prosperity, and to create the kinds of conditions so that folks can work hard to finally get ahead.
That means making our schools more competitive, and our colleges and our community colleges more affordable to young people. That means health insurance reform that gives families and businesses more choice, and more competition, and better protection from some of the worst abuses of the insurance industry. It means common-sense reforms that prevent the irresponsibility of a few people on Wall Street wreaking havoc all across Main Street, all across America. And it means igniting a new, clean-energy economy that generates good jobs right here in the United States and starts freeing ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.
The President talked about the progress being made around delivering the next generation of biofuels, noting that renewable, homegrown fuels “are a key part of our strategy for a clean energy future.”
I may be the President these days, but I want to remind everybody I was the senator from Illinois. I didn’t just discover the merits of biofuels like ethanol when I first hopped on the campaign bus. I was telling Steve this was not the first ethanol plant I visited. And I believe in the potential of what you’re doing right here to contribute to our clean energy future, but also to our rural economies.
Jesse LeeApril 28, 2010
05:49 PM EDT
A Recovery Act that’s put more than 2 million people to work and helped bring our economy back from the brink, and provided the single biggest investment in the clean energy economy in America’s history. Sweeping health reform that put Americans in control of their health care instead of insurance companies, that is already taking hold. The President talked about these core elements of a new foundation for America already signed into law before addressing the next major element: Wall Street Reform. After repeatedly blocking reform from coming up for debate, Senate Republicans had just agreed to allow debate to begin, meaning that an end to bailouts, transparency for risky derivatives, say for shareholders over executive pay, and protections for consumers against deceptive banks practices are now all within reach.
So we’re going to see how this debate unfolds. We’re going to get this done. And we’re going to get it done because you demand it. It’s been two years since this crisis, born on Wall Street, slammed into Main Street with its full fury. And while things aren’t nearly back to normal out here, they’re getting back to normal pretty quick up there. Some in Washington think this debate is moving too fast. They think, well, this is kind of a political game; let’s see how this whole thing can play to our advantage in November.
See, that’s not how I play. I’ve been calling for better rules on Wall Street since 2007, before this crisis happened. (Applause.) So I don’t think we’re moving too fast. I think we’ve been moving too slow. It’s time to get this done. And I don’t think you want to see us wait for another year or two years. I don’t think you think Washington is moving too fast. (Applause.) I think you want to get this done. (Applause.)
You shouldn’t have to wait another day for the protections from some of the practices that got us into this mess. We can’t let the recovery that’s finally beginning to take hold fall prey to a whole new round of recklessness. If we don’t learn the lessons of this crisis, we doom ourselves to repeat it. And I refuse to let that happen. (Applause.) So the time for reform is now. (Applause.)
Quincy, let me just say this. Through all the noise and the lobbyists and the partisanship -- and I know sometimes you’re watching TV and saying, sheesh, everybody is yelling and hollering, and why are they so mad? But this debate comes down to a simple choice: Are we going to go down the same road, where irresponsibility of a few can put millions of families at risk and stick taxpayers with a tab?
THE PRESIDENT: Or are we going to protect consumers, and strengthen our financial system, and put rules in place that keep this from happening ever again? (Applause.) Are we going to give in to the special interests, or are we going to score another victory for the American people? (Applause.) Are we going to stick with the status quo? Or are we going to bring about fundamental change that makes things work for ordinary Americans? (Applause.)
We’ve got the power to do something about this. That’s all it comes down to -- the will to act. I still believe we can come together, just like you all came together during those floods, filling those sandbags -- everybody joining together, everybody breaking a little sweat, everybody helping out. That’s how America got built. (Applause.)
We are not powerless in the face of our challenges. We don’t quit when things get tough. We’re not afraid. (Applause.) When something happens, we come together. We move forward. We act. We are Americans -- our destiny is written by us, not for us. (Applause.) And if we remember that and summon that spirit once again, we’re going to strengthen our economy today and tomorrow, and restore security to the middle class. (Applause.)
April 28, 2010
05:42 PM EDT
Yesterday President Obama asked for your help to narrow down the finalists in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge and you responded. So far, we’ve received over 125,000 votes!
The race is still too close to call, and it’s not too late to weigh in. Voting closes tomorrow (April 29) at 11:59 PM EDT, so check out the finalists' videos and essays and rate each one from 1-5 at WhiteHouse.gov/commencement.
When we first launched the Commencement Challenge in February we were looking for schools that were making significant strides on personal responsibility, academic excellence and college readiness, and working toward the President’s national goal of having the most college graduates by 2020. We received over 1,000 applications from outstanding schools across the country, but the six finalists - Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, KS, Clark Montessori in Cincinnati, OH, Denver School of Science and Technology in Denver, Colorado, Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, CA, Kalamazoo Central High School in Kalamazoo, MI and MAST Academy in Miami, FL – really stood out.
Now we need your help to narrow down the field. On Friday, we’ll announce the top three publicly rated schools. From there, President Obama will choose one school to visit and deliver the commencement address. Check out WhiteHouse.gov/commencement on May 4 to find out who won.
Lauren Paige is Director of Special Projects for White House Communications.
April 28, 2010
04:30 PM EDT
Ed. Note: President Obama continued his White House to Main Street Tour this week with a stop in Iowa where he visited a local business. The President kicked off the White House to Main Street Tour series in December of 2009 in an effort to get out of Washington to hear directly from and share ideas with Americans across the country. Morgan Hoenig, the founder of MogoOrganic in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, shared her story with us.
Before MogoOrganic, I was just working for my parents and selling a little garden produce at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market for extra cash. My parents ran a greenhouse and flower shop for 32 years in Mt. Pleasant, IA (the home town of Secretary Vilsack) and I learned a lot from them while growing up in the greenhouse. I didn’t just learn about plants and how to grow them, but I also learned a lot about running a small business in a small town.
The opportunity arose to take care of my grandparents’ old farm and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to expand the garden. The land had been used for nothing more than grazing pasture for 15 years, and the old barn on the farm had deteriorated quite a bit since my grandfather passed away 20 years ago. The local chamber office in Mt. Pleasant has a business plan competition every year for entrepreneurs or businesses that are wanting to expand. I decided to write up a business plan for a organic vegetable farm, using my nick-name Mogo... just because I liked the way it sounded. My business plan was selected for the prize in 2007, and I received $3500 to put up my first high-tunnel cold frame. MogoOrganic was just an idea, but the Chamber Office encouraged me to get started building right away and MogoOrganic was a reality by the spring of 2008.
My business took off quickly, and the old farm quickly came back to life. I had 20 CSA customers (farm share holders) the first year, and my farmers market stand doubled in size. I grow a lot of heirloom and interesting vegetables and encourage my customers to try new things. I try to promote eating local, seasonal produce and explain why it tastes better and why it is better for you. I’ve been helping the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market to hold a tomato growing contest this summer, where market customers can taste, sample and judge a variety of tomatoes. I hope to educate people about the variety of produce that is out there, and how much better it tastes than the over-sprayed, un-ripe produce that is generally offered to us.
President Obama’s visit to my business today was incredible. He was a very approachable person, and I was happy to show him around my little farm. I was able to show the President and Secretary all that I have built on the farm using recycled materials and explain the different techniques that I use on my farm, including drip irrigation and some organic sprays that I mix myself. President Obama and Secretary Vilsack encouraged me to look into and take advantage of USDA grants that are available. We also discussed a number of other opportunities that there are out there for farmers like me, like the Farm to School Program, where local produce is brought into the schools. The whole experience was pretty overwhelming, but very, very encouraging.
Morgan Hoenig is the founder of MogoOrganic in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and lead President Obama and Secretary Vilsack on a tour of MogoOrganic’s barn, hoop house, and organic garden.
Jesse LeeApril 28, 2010
12:36 PM EDT
At a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa yesterday, President Obama answered questions from audience members, but first took a moment to give a glimpse into his perspective:
Now, we haven’t been perfect. That’s for sure. Michelle could have warned you, I’m not perfect. But I want -- what I want you to know is that every single thing we are trying to accomplish, every policy we put in place, every day that I go to work, it’s about restoring a sense of security for the middle class and renewing the American Dream for folks like you -- because you’re the ones who inspired me to run. Whether you support me or not, it’s towns like this and families like yours that I spend my time thinking about.
When answering a question from a gentleman who had travelled from California to Iowa, the President asked him what he was doing in Ottumwa. "There’s a special lady that has my heart called Veronica Butler here so I have to come back,” the man said. "Oh, I see. Okay. All right, okay. I got you," the President responded. The man went on to discuss his concerns that suppliers for his small business were losing to manufacturing jobs overseas and having trouble securing financing from banks to buy equipment: “so we need help, boss.”
The President explained that the good news was that some parts of the manufacturing base in America is still “very strong,” using the wind blade farm he visited yesterday at Siemens Energy, Inc. as an example of new manufacturing industries that can grow in America even if others decline due to jobs lost overseas or simply technological advancements that reduce the need for workers. He described the effort to continue to push and be tough on negotiations for trade with other countries as a top priority. The President also explained that the Small Business Administration (SBA) doubled loans to small businesses and is pushing for big banks to repay their loans, which the SBA will use to get small business loans.
[I]t turns out all those big banks are actually now paying back the money that we gave them… With interest, by the way. They’ve already paid back the majority of it, but my attitude is I want them paying back every dime. And that’s why we’ve got a bank fee that we’re going to impose on them until they’ve paid taxpayers back every dime of the money they got.
But one of our proposals is to have some of that money used to help get small business loans out. And so this is going to be something that we’re debating. If we can start loosening up credit for small businesses, and helping smaller and community banks with their lending portfolios, that will make a huge difference in terms of the pace of our economic growth. So this is really a top priority for our administration.
Craig FugateApril 28, 2010
10:13 AM EDT
Today, FEMA is taking a step to put more tools in your hands by launching m.fema.gov, our new mobile website. We recognize that when it comes to disasters, many individuals are going to try to get the information they need by using their mobile device--so we’re rolling out this mobile version of our website so people can get the information they need when disaster strikes.
The new site – m.fema.gov – is laid out in a user friendly, question and answer format, walking users through the important issues they face when dealing with disasters, including:
How do I apply for FEMA Aid?
What should I do in a disaster?
How can I help others?
This is just a first step. We will be making several enhancements to m.fema.gov in the coming months, including the ability to apply for individual assistance when a disaster has been declared by the President, check on the status of an application and update an existing application. And we will keep improving the site, working to ensure that Americans have easy access to the tools they need to prepare for and, when needed, recover from a disaster in their community.
Today’s launch of m.fema.gov comes with just over a month remaining until the start of hurricane season on June 1. We encourage everyone to visit http://m.fema.gov/hurricanes.htm on their mobile device and learn more about the simple steps you can take to make sure you and your family ready for hurricane season.Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.
Craig Fugate is the Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Kori SchulmanApril 27, 2010
08:40 PM EDT
The President continued his series of White House to Main Street tours with stops through Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. After touring Siemens Energy, Inc. in Fort Madison, Iowa, the President made an impromptu visit to Jerry's Family Restaurant in Mt. Pleasant where he greeted Iowans and wished 107-year-old Frances Asher a happy birthday. Watch some raw footage from the visit:
April 27, 2010
06:10 PM EDT
With a little over 48 hours left to weigh in on the Commencement Challenge, President Obama sent an email today asking for your help to narrow down the field:
I need your help.
Earlier this year, I promised to speak at a high school's graduation somewhere in the United States. To be considered, we asked schools to tell us how they achieve three important criteria:
- Set a positive example for other high schools around the Country;
- Engage students in learning and foster personal responsibility and academic excellence; and
- Prepare students to graduate college to help meet my 2020 goal that America have the highest proportion of college graduates of any nation in the world.
We've narrowed down more than 1,000 entries to six finalists that each have a three-minute video and short essay you can review and rate. From now until Thursday, anyone can participate. Once the voting is over, I'll choose the winner from the top three.
Check out the six finalists:
So far, tens of thousands of people have weighed in on the six finalists in the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge and at this point, all of the finalists are neck and neck. Your input will help decide which schools land in the top three for the President’s final decision. Voting closes at 11:59 PM EDT on Thursday April 29, so be sure to weigh in before voting closes.
If you didn’t get today’s email from President Obama, you can sign up for White House email updates here.
Lauren Paige is Director of Special Projects for White House Communications.
April 27, 2010
04:57 PM EDT
Today President Obama travelled to Iowa and visited Siemens Energy, Inc., where he received a tour of the facility and saw the creation of blades that are capable of generating enough power for hundreds of homes. The President said that each employee of Siemens “Is helping stake America’s claim on a clean-energy future.”
The President discussed the future of clean energy in America, calling energy security “a top priority for my administration since the day I took office.” He explained that the Recovery Act made the largest investment in clean energy in the nation’s history- an investment expected to create or save 700,000 jobs by the end of 2012 and double America’s capacity to generate renewable electricity from sources like the sun and the wind:
So in the midst of the economic turmoil, the Recovery Act helped make it possible for America to install nearly 10 gigawatts of new wind-generating capacity last year alone -– and that's enough to power more than 2.4 million American homes. So when people ask you what was the Recovery Act about, what was the stimulus about, it was about this -- this plant.
The President praised Iowa for already generating a higher percentage of electricity from wind than any other state because of facilities like Siemens Energy:
And as extraordinary as this facility is, here’s the thing -- wind power isn’t a silver bullet, it’s not going to solve all our energy challenges. There’s no single energy source. The key is to understand that this is a key component, a key part of a comprehensive strategy to move us from an economy that just runs on fossil fuels to one that relies on more homegrown fuels and clean energy. I believe that we can come together around this issue and pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will ignite new industries, spark new jobs in towns just like Fort Madison, make America more energy-independent. Our security, our economy, the future of our planet all depend on it.
President Barack Obama tours the Siemens Wind Turbine Blade Manufacturing Plant in Fort Madison, Ia., April 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
April 27, 2010
03:40 PM EDT
The Wall Street Reform that is now pending in Congress is critical to ensuring that the U.S. never again finds itself in the midst of a massive economic collapse that is in large part due to failures of the regulatory system. President Obama strongly supports this legislation because it contains four key components. First, it takes steps to put an end to taxpayer bailouts. Second, it brings new transparency to complex financial markets. Third, it gives shareholders more power in the financial system.
Fourth, the reform creates a consumer financial protection agency that would look out for the interests of everyday Americans and stop the most abusive practices associated with mortgages, credit cards and access to financial services. This is particularly important to minority communities that are often victims of predatory lending, costly payday loans and excessive fees from financial institutions.
As an example, during the housing boom of the previous decade, African Americans saw rapid growth in homeownership as the percentage of home owners grew from 42 percent in 1995 to 50 percent in 2004. However, there was a problem. Many of these homes were purchased using exotic, high-priced predatory loans with low teaser interest rates. Recent reports show that African Americans and other minorities were three times more likely to receive higher-priced loans when purchasing a home. Even when refinancing, African Americans were twice as likely to receive these exotic home mortgages.
These loans were the equivalent of ticking time bombs in African American communities as once the loans re-set, usually with a higher monthly interest payment, many consumers found themselves with a mortgage they could no longer afford. At the end of 2009, over 40% of subprime mortgages were at risk of foreclosure, partially due to unscrupulous and irresponsible lending practices. The overall impact of tight credit and high foreclosure rates have led to a drop in homeownership rates for African Americans to 46 percent in 2009.
How would the consumer financial protection agency have prevented the abuses in the marketplace that led to these unfortunate foreclosures? First, the President is calling for fair and transparent financial services that are easy for everyday consumers to understand. Anyone who has ever purchased a home or taken the time to read the fine print in their credit card statement appreciates how tough it can be to navigate the most basic financial matters. Further, by promoting and supporting financial literacy for all, this agency will empower consumers with clear and concise information when they are making financial decisions. This will help ensure that all Americans, especially those new to financial markets, understand the basic principles of personal finance which are essential to true financial independence.
In addition, for the first time the federal government will be able to oversee alternative financial services, such as payday lenders and cash checking outlets where minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the customers. These businesses play an important role in the market and should be accessible when needed. However, consumers also need to understand clearly the terms on which they are borrowing and have the protections afforded those that borrow from more traditional financial institutions. The new agency will also monitor credit card companies and banks to protect us from excessive fees and overdraft charges. Critically, the consumer financial protection agency is designed to enforce fair lending and end discriminatory practices against African Americans and other minorities.
President Obama has put the nation on a path to reforming our financial system by calling for the strongest consumer protections ever, bringing opaque markets out of the shadows, giving shareholders a stronger voice, and ending taxpayer bailouts once and for all. The President understands the value of a free market, but that doesn’t mean having free license to take whatever you can get however you can get it, particularly from those in our most vulnerable communities.
Cecilia Rouse is a Member of the Council of Economic Advisers
April 27, 2010
02:48 PM EDT
On Monday evening, Dr. Jill Biden hosted the 2010 National Teachers of the Year reception to congratulate teachers across the country for making a difference in their students’ lives. She was joined by the Department of Education’s Undersecretary Thelma Melendez and Chief of Staff Margot Rogers.
Dr. Biden said being surrounded by teachers at the reception made it one of her “absolute favorite events of the year”:
Just like each of you – I see day in and day out in my classroom the critical importance of education to the lives of Americans and the success of our nation.
I love being a teacher because I see that I can make a difference in the lives of my students. Regardless of the subject I’m teaching, my goal is to impart a sense of confidence in my students that will give them the strength to move in a positive direction.
I know each of you here tonight could share similar stories about your students who have been inspired by something you have taught them – and have, in turn, inspired you.
You stand here as the best of the best – each being honored this week for going above and beyond for your students, and our country.
So – on behalf of myself, my husband the Vice President, and President and Mrs. Obama – I want to say Thank You.
Nancy-Ann DeParleApril 27, 2010
12:24 PM EDT
When health insurance reform became the law of the land, we knew our work was just beginning. While passing the law was a tremendous accomplishment, the President and his Administration are now focused on the next challenge: making sure the law is implemented smoothly, quickly, and effectively. In fact, the day after the bill passed, the first thing the President asked of his senior staff was “Where are we on implementation?”
One of the most important provisions in health reform for young adults and their families is the new provision that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health care plan until age 26. This provision takes effect on September 23, 2010, and it could help more than 4.7 million uninsured young Americans.
But we knew that some young adults graduating from college this spring could risk losing their health insurance before the provision takes effect, only to be added back onto their parents’ policy the next time their parents’ plan comes up for renewal on or after September 23rd. That was bad news for families and bad news for insurance companies too. Removing an individual from a health insurance plan and then adding them back on a few months later takes time, and it costs money.
That’s why on April 19, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called on leading insurance companies to begin covering young adults voluntarily before the September 23 implementation date required by the new health reform law. Early implementation would avoid gaps in coverage for new college graduates and other young adults and save on insurance company administrative costs of dis-enrolling and re-enrolling them between May 2010 and September 23, 2010. Early enrollment will also enable young, overwhelmingly healthy people who will not engender large insurance costs to stay in the insurance pool.
And we’re pleased to report that the following insurance companies are doing just that:
April 27, 2010
12:05 PM EDT
As part of the ongoing implementation of the Open Government Plans, we have asked the Cabinet departments and other major agencies to work with us to evaluate version 1.0 of their Plans (or recent revisions) against the requirements of the Open Government Directive. The assessments show that we are off to a good start--but have much more work to do as we transition our overall efforts towards effective agency implementation.
There are important lessons to be learned not only from the government’s self-evaluation efforts, but also from the reviews and recommendations that we’re receiving from outside groups and individuals. Some of the constructive criticisms are already being incorporated, while others are sparking new thoughts and approaches to how agencies are pressing forward with their initiatives. We want that feedback and look forward to much more of it. This is a work in progress – there are ways every plan can be strengthened – and all of us in the Administration are committed to a process of implementation, assessment, and improvement.
Earlier this month, we described a process for evaluating each agency’s plan to make operations and data more transparent, and expand opportunities for citizen participation, collaboration, and oversight. The review began with a checklist of 30 criteria drawn directly from the Directive. An agency that meets all of the criteria in full gets an overall green flag. An agency that fails to fulfill even one criterion gets an overall yellow flag, to signify that more work remains to be done to improve the plan as part of the implementation process. In addition, we have included an evaluation of each of the four major components of the plan – Transparency, Participation, Collaboration, Flagship Initiative - as well as a process section.
Finding #1: All on Board. All Cabinet departments and major agencies have submitted plans that make significant strides towards open government as called for in the Directive. Better still, many other agencies – not specifically bound by the Directive – have completed deliverables to demonstrate their commitment as well. All agencies recognize the value of breaking down long-standing barriers between the American people and their government.
Finding #2: More Still to Do. Only three of the cabinet and other key agencies won a green flag for across-the-board excellence. All the others – including our own offices of OSTP and OMB – have more work to do before the Plan fully satisfies every requirement in the Directive. With your feedback, we are keen to improve upon these living documents to fulfill the letter and the spirit of the Directive.
Finding #3: Open Government Pracitices Worthy of Review. Three agencies both achieved the requirements and took ambitious steps that might serve as models for the rest of government – the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Transportation, and NASA. HHS developed a concrete plan to which it can be held accountable for identifying and publishing high value data sets with an impressive roster of commitments this year; Transportation engaged over 200 staff members in crafting the plan from nearly every service area to instill an open government culture wide and deep within the agency; and NASA is inviting volunteer software developers to collaborate in the development of NASA technologies, both to advance the agency’s mission and to spur commercialization leading to economic growth.
We will highlight more noteworthy open government practices across the agencies as they push forward with their plans. We’ll keep our “leading practices” page a place where you can learn more about the innovative steps underway across the government.
We wish to especially thank the 20,000+ members of the public contributing to each agency’s plans, posting comments and voting on specific ideas. Your input has been incredibly valuable thus far and we hope you will continue to participate as we turn our attention towards the more important task of implementing the milestones described in each plan. We will be reporting back frequently through this blog and other fora to highlight the latest efforts in open government but the bulk of the work will take place at the agency level. Each agency will update you on implementation and opportunities for collaboration through their /open pages.
Vivek Kundra is U.S. Chief Information Officer.
Aneesh Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer.