Read all posts from February 2012
Colleen CurtisFebruary 02, 2012
10:00 AM EST
February is Black History Month, and his year's theme, "Black Women in American Culture and History," honors African American women and the many roles they’ve played in the shaping of our nation.
And in an interview with More magazine, First Lady Michelle Obama talks candidly about one of the roles that matters most to her, one that has been a part of her life since she was in high school, one that can have a crucial influence in shaping the next generation of American women and one she urges others to embrace: Mentor.
Mrs. Obama discusses the impact mentors have had in her life, and also what being a mentor has meant to her (one of the first people she mentored as a lawyer in Chicago was a fellow graduate of Harvard Law School named Barack Obama: “I made sure that he met the partners that he was working with; I had to take him out to lunch a couple of times” she tells the magazine).
And for the first time, the First Lady discusses a program she launched shortly after moving into the White House, a mentoring program she designed “to open a secret door for others that hadn’t been opened for me,” by pairing disadvantaged girls with some of the powerful women in the land. She tells the magazine:
“I wanted [the students] to experience this notion that if you can walk [through] the doors of the White House once a month and sit down with the first lady and her chief of staff and some other senior officials, and they’re talking to you and you get used to hearing your voice in the space, then it becomes not a big deal.”
And so her program pairs teenage girls with “this wonderful array of women who come from different backgrounds,” she says. “They’re senior leaders in President Obama’s administration, and they all have a story, right? They all have a set of challenges and struggles.” Those stories, Obama believes, are best told in person, over time, creating the kind of enduring bond the social media generation sorely lacks. “Even though our children are connecting in ways we never imagined,” she told a national summit on mentoring not long ago, “you’ve got an entire generation of young people truly in desperate need of a friend. Someone they can trust, an example they can follow.”
February 02, 2012
09:00 AM EST
In his State of the Union message last week, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an America that’s built to last—where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. Today, the Departments of Treasury and Labor are taking steps to strengthen economic security for our nation’s seniors by giving Americans greater investment information and access to more choices to plan for a secure retirement. These steps will be of particular importance to women, who tend to live longer and have fewer retirement assets and lower retirement income than men.
The Department of Labor is taking action to require 401(k) plan providers to better disclose the cost and nature of the services they provide, while Treasury and the IRS are announcing steps that will ease regulatory barriers in the market for annuities and other forms of lifetime income. The Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) has prepared a detailed report describing the significance of today’s actions, which can be accessed here.
Today’s announcements complement previous Administration initiatives to make retirement more secure for American families. In September 2009, President Obama announced expanded opportunities for automatic enrollment in retirement savings plans. The President has also championed an automatic IRA legislative proposal through which tens of millions of workers without access to a workplace retirement plan would be automatically enrolled in IRAs through payroll deposit contributions, while remaining free to opt out. And the Administration has proposed easing requirements on the timing and amount of distributions from retirement accounts for many retirees, reducing the compliance burden and providing elderly Americans with greater control over their retirement assets.
Matt ComptonFebruary 01, 2012
07:05 PM EST
Today, in Falls Church, Virginia, President Obama expanded on the ideas he first presented in the State of the Union on ways to help responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages.
Here are more details about that plan.
But the President also said that we can't wait on Congress to take action to help working families in this country:
Already, we’ve set up a special task force I asked my Attorney General to establish to investigate the kind of activity banks took when they packaged and sold risky mortgages. And that task force is ramping up its work as we speak. We’re going to keep at it and hold people who broke the law accountable and help restore confidence in the market. We’re going to speed assistance to homeowners. And we’re going to turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many hardworking Americans.
Read the full remarks here. Or watch the video to learn more.
Cecilia MuñozFebruary 01, 2012
06:35 PM EST
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans will cover women’s preventive services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning in August, 2012. This new law will save money for millions of Americans. But more importantly, it will ensure Americans nationwide get the high-quality care they need to stay healthy. Under this policy, women who want contraception will have access to it through their insurance without paying a co-pay or deductible. But no one will be forced to buy or use contraception.
On January 20th, Secretary Sebelius announced that certain religious organizations including churches would be exempt from paying their insurers to cover contraception. Other religious organizations, including those that employ people of different faiths, can qualify for a one-year transition period as they prepare to comply with the new law. In recent days, there has been some confusion about how this policy affects religious institutions. We want to make sure you have the facts:
- Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception.
- No individual health care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception: The President and this Administration have previously and continue to express strong support for existing conscience protections. For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a prescription for contraception.
- No individual will be forced to buy or use contraception: This rule only applies to what insurance companies cover. Under this policy, women who want contraception will have access to it through their insurance without paying a co-pay or deductible. But no one will be forced to buy or use contraception.
- Drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy: Drugs like RU486 are not covered by this policy, and nothing about this policy changes the President’s firm commitment to maintaining strict limitations on Federal funding for abortions. No Federal tax dollars are used for elective abortions.
- Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these States like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions. Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all.
- Contraception is used by most women: According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.
- Contraception coverage reduces costs: While the monthly cost of contraception for women ranges from $30 to $50, insurers and experts agree that savings more than offset the cost. The National Business Group on Health estimated that it would cost employers 15 to 17 percent more not to provide contraceptive coverage than to provide such coverage, after accounting for both the direct medical costs of potentially unintended and unhealthy pregnancy and indirect costs such as employee absence and reduced productivity.
The Obama Administration is committed to both respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. And as we move forward, our strong partnerships with religious organizations will continue. The Administration has provided substantial resources to Catholic organizations over the past three years, in addition to numerous non-financial partnerships to promote healthy communities and serve the common good. This work includes partnerships with Catholic social service agencies on local responsible fatherhood programs and international anti-hunger/food assistance programs. We look forward to continuing this important work.
Cecilia MuñozFebruary 01, 2012
01:05 PM EST
Eight months ago, one of the deadliest tornados in U.S. history touched down in Joplin, Missouri, and took the lives of more than 160 residents and destroyed thousands of homes. The federal response began immediately. Within hours, Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were on the ground to work hand in hand with state and local officials to assist in response and recovery. AmeriCorps members also raced to the scene as well. Members from AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) arrived in Joplin, and immediately began working with local authorities to assist in search and rescue.
Yesterday, the Missouri House of Representative passed a bipartisan resolution honoring the more than 300 AmeriCorps members from across the country who have played an indispensable role in helping the cities of Joplin and Duquesne recover. They provided homeowner assistance and casework, helped clear debris, and provided support to the Missouri Highway Patrol and the Joplin Police Department with missing person inquiries.
But these AmeriCorps members were certainly not alone. More than 60,000 volunteers ranging from average citizens who wanted to help to active duty military to faith-based groups from across the country have been an indispensable source of support for the people of Joplin. Managed and supported by AmeriCorps members, these volunteers have provided more than 579,000 hours of service and contributed to $17.7 million of donated resources to more than 2,000 households.
Kori SchulmanFebruary 01, 2012
12:41 PM EST
Ed. Note: This live event has concluded. Watch the video below or on YouTube and stay tuned for upcoming White House Hangouts.
On Thursday, February 2nd at 5:30 p.m. EST, Gene Sperling, Steve Case and Aneesh Chopra are joining a conversation with Americans across the country in a special White House Hangout focused on Startup America. Will you join them?
Startup America is a White House initiative that was launched to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation. In honor of its one-year anniversary, we’re hosting a special White House Hangout, a live multi-person video chat, through Google+ to talk with Americans across the country about the initiative and answer questions about President Obama’s new proposals to accelerate startup and small business growth.
Joining the Startup America Hangout will let you engage with one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs and Senior Administration officials:
- Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council (read more)
- Steve Case, Chairman of the Startup America Partnership (read more)
- Aneesh Chopra, US Chief Technology Officer (read more)
We hope you’ll Hangout with us on Thursday, February 2nd at 5:30 p.m. EST. Here’s how you can get involved:
- What’s your question about Startup America? Starting now, you can ask questions for Gene, Steve and Aneesh on the White House Google+ page, and you just might be invited to join the live Hangout.
- Watch the Hangout live at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 2nd on WhiteHouse.gov/live, YouTube.com/whitehouse or the White House Google+ page.
And in case you missed it, President Obama participated in the first White House Hangout from the West Wing earlier this week. In the first completely virtual interview from the White House, the President sat down with people from across the country to discuss his State of the Union Address.
For upcoming White House Hangouts and more chances to engage, follow the White House on Google+
February 01, 2012
12:31 PM EST
In response to press inquiries received on today’s housing announcement by the Obama administration, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director (CFPB) Richard Cordray issued the following statement:
“The principles articulated by the Obama administration today are good guideposts for much-needed reforms in the mortgage market. The problems that plague consumers are well-documented. Too many consumers were steered into complicated mortgages that they did not understand and couldn’t afford. Too many families were forced into foreclosure because paperwork was lost, phone calls went unanswered, errors were not resolved, or documents were falsified.
“To protect consumers, there must be clear rules of the road and real consequences for breaking them. The Consumer Bureau is already hard at work making the costs and risks of mortgages clear upfront through our Know Before You Owe project. The financial reform law also requires us to create new mortgage servicing rules that hold servicers accountable for disclosing fees and fixing problems. We are also working with other federal agencies to develop common-sense national servicing standards. But having rules in place isn’t enough. We are closely monitoring mortgage servicers to make sure that no one gains an unfair advantage by breaking the law. Taking these steps to fix the mortgage market is good for consumers, honest businesses, and our entire economy.”
The CFPB’s draft simplified mortgage disclosure is available online at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Jan2012_Estimate_Honeylocust.pdf
Nancy-Ann DeParleFebruary 01, 2012
09:32 AM EST
At the time the Affordable Care Act was passed, Republicans in Congress said the bill would virtually end the Medicare Advantage program. “Every one of them (in Medicare Advantage) will see their benefits go down,” “provisions in there are going to allow them to kill Medicare Advantage,” “if this passes, it is the end of Medicare Advantage as we know it,” are just a few of the incendiary charges Republicans made about the Affordable Care Act. Premiums would go up, they claimed, and choice and enrollment would go down.
Those predictions turned out to be wrong. Medicare Advantage is stronger than ever – offering more seniors better benefits, higher quality care and lower costs. As reported last year, 99.7 percent of people with Medicare still have access to Medicare Advantage plans.
In fact, premiums have been consistently lower – and enrollment has been higher. Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that average premiums for Medicare Advantage enrollees in 2012 are 7 percent lower compared to last year, exceeding the 4 percent decrease that was projected in September. Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, premiums have gone down by nearly 16 percent. In addition, enrollment increased by nearly 10 percent from 2011. That means that Medicare Advantage enrollment is up by 17 percent since enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. In August of 2010, CBO projected that Medicare Advantage enrollment would be 10.2 million in 2012, down from 10.4 million in 2009. Actual enrollment is over 2 million people higher than that projection, at 12.8 million in February of this year.
And further, the Affordable Care Act strengthened consumer protections and improved plan choices for people with Medicare Advantage. The law is paring back overpayments to plans. It requires health plans to pay at least 85 percent of what they collect in payments on health care, not on overhead and profits. Plans can no longer charge higher cost sharing than a senior in traditional Medicare pays. And proven preventive services are covered for free.
And when seniors choose a Medicare Advantage plan, a new five-star rating system shows them which plans in their area are doing a better job of caring for patients. Plus, a new, value-based purchasing system is encouraging all plans to improve their quality by paying plans with excellent overall quality more, and lower-quality plans less. It’s the kind of smart reform we’ve implemented throughout Medicare since enactment of the Affordable Care Act.
This is another myth from opponents of health reform debunked by results. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare is stronger than ever.
Dan PfeifferFebruary 01, 2012
06:00 AM EST
In last week’s State of the Union Address, the President laid out a blueprint for an economy built to last, where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules, especially those elected officials who have been sent here to Washington.
During the speech, the President called on Congress to pass a bill that makes clear that current insider trading laws apply to Members of Congress. No one should be able to trade stocks based on nonpublic information they learned on Capitol Hill. This is a no-brainer.
I’d like to point out that Executive Branch employees are already covered by the insider trading prohibitions. That’s right -- there are laws on the books to prevent Executive Branch employees from trading stock based on information that is not public. In fact, the SEC and the Department of Justice have brought insider trading actions against employees of the Executive Branch based on this clear authority under the law. So, the Executive Branch is covered. It’s time to make it clear that Congress is subject to the same rules.
Now, there are some folks out there who suggest the Administration is trying to impose a higher standard on Congress. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do the insider trading laws already apply to the Executive Branch, but there are other laws on the books that prohibit Executive Branch employees from using their positions to benefit their own personal financial interest. These laws don’t apply to Congress.