Engage and Connect

President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.

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Latest News

  • Discussing President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Initiative

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from ED.gov

    This Thursday, from March 20, 2014 from 12-1 p.m. ET the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans will host its next installment of #AfAmEdChat. This edition will focus on President Obama’s new #MyBrothersKeeper initiative. “By increasing awareness of the President’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper we can each take concrete steps to reduce the barriers that race and poverty play in denying equality of opportunity” shares Deputy Secretary of Education, Jim Shelton.

    The March 20th #AfAmEdChat is one of a series of strategies the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is using to bring people together around issues and ideas supporting the achievement of boys and men of color. Deputy Secretary Shelton notes “Social media is the fastest and easiest way to spark discussion and exchange ideas. Conversations about race and poverty are often difficult to have face to face and are often therefore avoided.” President Obama reminded us during the launch of My Brother’s Keeper, and Shelton adds “the unique challenges facing boys and men of color should never be swept under the rug.”

    According to Deputy Secretary Shelton, “folks should tune into the My Brother’s Keeper #AfAmEdChat to stay in touch with the latest details and help move the conversation forward. We will be sharing information regarding our process and next steps as well as ways for you to be involved and updated in this critical work.”

    In addition to White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Executive Director David J. Johns and Policy Advisor Christopher Scott, confirmed guests include:

    • Mike Blake – Green For All – Director of Public Policy & External Affairs & Operation Hope – Senior Advisor – @MrMikeBlake
    • Mary Brown – Executive Director, Life Pieces to Masterpieces – @LP2MP
    • Christopher Chatmon – Executive Director, African American Male Achievement, Oakland Unified School District – @AAMAOUSD
    • Shawn Dove – Manager of Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement – @DoveSoars
    • Angela Glover–Blackwell – Founder and Chief Executive Officers, PolicyLink – @policylink
    • Shaun Harper – Executive Director, Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education at University of Pennsylvania – @DrShaunHarper

    Additionally, to support the work of My Brothers Keeper, the Initiative is hosting a series of Summits on Educational Excellence for African Americans in cities across the Nation to directly engage young people, schools, communities, philanthropy and businesses interested in implementing successful strategies. To learn more and to register for a Summit near you visit www.ed.gov/AfAmEducation

    Khalilah Harris is a fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans.

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Expanding Reentry Employment Opportunities

    Stable employment – like stable housing, family and community support, and access to substance abuse and mental health treatment – is critical to the rehabilitation, stability and successful reentry of individuals who have been incarcerated and are returning to our communities. Research shows that those who have been employed even for a year or less are far less likely to commit another crime. That is why the innovative work of local and state community leaders to help those with criminal records re-enter society with dignity and viable employment opportunities is so important. Their leadership is improving public safety and giving individuals who have paid their debt to society a real second chance to support their families and contribute to our economy.

    For individuals who are returning to their communities and working hard to stay on the right track, limited access to employment can present insurmountable difficulties for them and their families, but the impact is even more far-reaching. For example, the potential effect on our economy and job growth is substantial. Individuals with criminal histories are thought to lower employment rates for men by 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points, resulting in a loss of output between $57 and $65 billion over the span of a year. The overall loss of productivity and purchasing power is a drag on our economy; so, if reentry fails, we all pay the price.

    In light of this reality, and as part of its overarching efforts to restore the economy and get Americans back to work, the Administration is working to reduce barriers to employment for individuals with past criminal involvement, so that these individuals – once their debt is paid – can compete for appropriate work opportunities in order to support themselves and their families, pay their taxes, and contribute to the economy. For example, the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, chaired by Attorney General Eric Holder and comprised of 20 federal agencies, was launched in 2011 with one main goal – to make communities safer by facilitating successful reentry for the formerly incarcerated, including in the area of employment. The Department of Justice and the Department of Labor (DOL) have provided substantial funding under the Second Chance Act and Workforce Investment Act for workforce development and support services to the formerly incarcerated; and the Department of Education has implemented programming to support successful reentry from adult and juvenile correctional facilities into education, employment and community programs. And recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, DOL and the Office of Personnel Management have provided guidance to employers on how to navigate employment decisions involving job applicants with criminal histories. Taken together, these developments provide important supports for those who have served their time and seek to re-join their communities as contributing citizens.

    Today, we are asking you to help us identify and honor extraordinary individuals who are enabling employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. These leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase their actions to support stronger and safer communities. Please nominate a Champion of Change HERE by noon on Friday, April 4, 2014. Nominees may include individuals who are:  

    • Providing job opportunities to individuals with a criminal record and/or creating and implementing model screening or hiring policies,
    • Personally demonstrating an exemplary record of employment or entrepreneurial success after incarceration and in turn providing employment opportunities and mentorship to the reentry population,
    • Creating effective education, training, mentoring and other transitional programs to help individuals with a criminal record improve employment outcomes,
    • Advocating for policy and legislative changes that lead to increased employment opportunities for individuals with a criminal record; and/or
    • Leveraging technology to increase access to employment-related reentry services or education and skills-building for individuals with a criminal record.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose Reentry Employment Opportunities in the “Theme of Service” field of the nomination form).

    Nominate a Reentry Champion of Change Here

    We are looking forward to hosting this event and to highlighting the great work communities across the country are doing to advance the health, safety and well-being of the American people.

    Tonya Robinson is the Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy for the White House Domestic Policy Council.

  • President's budget promises big benefits for Tribal Lands

    Last week, I had a chance to visit with the National Congress of American Indians to talk about President Obama's transportation budget proposal and what it means for our tribal lands. And the news was very good.
    We all know that transportation isn't just about how we get from one point to another – it's, what President Obama likes to call, a ladder of opportunity.
    This is especially true in Indian Country, where a rebuilt road or a new transit system can make the difference in a child getting to school, a father getting to work, or a tribal elder getting to the doctor.
    That's why the Department of Transportation has a long history of partnering with tribal communities to build the roads, bridges, and transit systems they need to succeed.
    First, we have the Tribal Transportation Program, which helps tribes improve safety and public roads access to and within their lands. 
    Last year, as part of this program, we awarded $8.6 million in Tribal Transportation Safety Funds to 183 tribes. This is improving road safety on tribal lands, which have consistently ranked among the nation’s highest road fatality rates.
    The Tribal Transportation Program is already making a huge difference. And under President Obama’s budget proposal, it will be able to make an even bigger impact – with funding increasing from $450 million per year to $507 million in 2015.
    In addition to the work we’re doing on roads and bridges, we’re also committed to making sure tribal communities have access to transit services that connect to jobs, schools, and health care. That’s why we’re proud to support the Tribal Transit Program, which provides grants for tribes to build and operate public transit programs and services.
    Under MAP-21, funding for this program doubled to $30 million per year. In fact, today, the Federal Transit Administration announced the award of $5 million in competitive funds to 42 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes in 19 states for projects to improve transit service. The funds complement $25 million allocated by formula to eligible tribal recipients for FY 2014. The combined $30 million investment – double the amount available in prior years – supports efforts to enhance public transit service on rural tribal lands and better connect tribal members and other residents.
    And in the President’s budget, the program’s funding level would rise again –to $35 million in FY 2015.
    Indian Country has also benefitted substantially from our TIGER grant program - with tribal projects receiving nearly $80 million in funding since 2009. 
    For example, the Navajo Division of Transportation received a $31 million TIGER grant to add two lanes to US-491 – boosting capacity and improving safety on a critical corridor that connects Navajo Nation to other parts of New Mexico and Colorado.
    And with DOT now taking applications for our sixth round of TIGER, which will award $600 million this year, I hope to see tribal projects well-represented once again.
    As you can see, we're already making a substantial difference in tribal communities – improving safety and ensuring access to the transportation services residents and businesses need to thrive in the 21st century. 
    And thanks to President Obama's vision for transportation – and the bill we'll soon be submitting to Congress – we'll be able to do even more to boost economic opportunity for America's tribal nations.
    Victor Mendez is Acting Deputy U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

  • Making Health Care Coverage More Accessible and Equitable for Same-Sex Couples

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Department of Health and Human Services' health care blog. See the original post here.

    Today, the Department of Health and Human Services took one more step toward making health care coverage more accessible and equitable for married same-sex couples.

    Already, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 4.2 million people have signed up for private health insurance plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Marketplace plans cover essential health benefits like emergency services, prescription drugs and mental health and substance use disorder services. And preventive services like flu shots, blood pressure screening and HIV screening are covered at no additional charge.

    Moreover, all health plans sold in the Marketplace have to follow rules that make health care more accessible for everyone. You can’t be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition, like HIV/AIDS or cancer, and you can’t be charged more for being a woman.

    Today, we are clarifying that, starting next year, if an insurance company offers coverage to opposite-sex spouses, it cannot choose to deny that coverage to same-sex spouses. In other words, insurance companies will not be permitted to discriminate against married same-sex couples when offering coverage. This will further enhance access to health care for all Americans, including those with same-sex spouses.

  • We're looking for a few good... Champions of Change

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the United States Department of Transportation.

    The work we do at DOT cannot be done without our partners. Whether we're investing in safety, seeking innovation, or solving regional transportation challenges, success often depends on exceptional groups and individuals doing the heavy lifting and setting the bar high for the rest of us. That's why the Obama Administration has been recognizing Champions of Change in different fields, including transportation.

    Like previous winner Beverly Scott--the MARTA CEO who actually painted red X's on Atlanta buses to show what transit service cuts would mean to commuters--one person with one idea can make a world of difference.

    And just as that holds true with transit in Atlanta, it also holds true in the difficult challenge of connecting people to ladders of opportunity like good jobs, education, and important services.

    But our country's continued economic growth depends on meeting that access challenge, so this May, DOT and the White House Office of Public Engagement will host a Champions of Change event focused onTransportation and Ladders of Opportunity.

    Selected Champions will be individuals who have provided exemplary leadership to ensure that transportation facilities, services, and jobs help individuals and their communities connect to 21st century opportunities. A champion’s work may include transportation projects, services, or advocacy across any mode of transportation.

    Examples include:

    • Providing leadership in planning, design, and development of innovative transportation solutions that result in connected communities
    • Advancing the use of equity based performance measures and planning initiatives at the state and/or community level
    • Developing and/or implementing transportation safety strategies or  innovative transportation safety programs for communities for minority, older adults, limited English proficiency or other at-risk communities
    • Establishing transportation workforce training initiatives for disadvantaged workers, including at-risk youth, minority, low income, women, veterans, people with disabilities and others
    • Implementing innovative public engagement strategies that ensure full participation by all citizens across the community
    • Providing strategies for streamlining project delivery that provide efficiency and economic benefits for the community
    • Demonstrating best practices in environmental justice related to transportation projects
    • Advancing innovative strategies for utilizing disadvantaged businesses in transportation projects
    • Demonstrating leadership in efforts to enhance transportation services for people who may not have access to personal vehicles, including people with disabilities, older adults, and/or people with lower incomes
    • Applying technologies that advance access to transportation for underrepresented communities

    If you know of someone making a difference in one or more of these ways, help us share their achievement by nominating them as a White House Champion of Change today!

    Nominations are due by Thursday March 27, 2014, and we've made it easy by offering you two ways to submit your nomination:

    However you share your nomination, please let us hear from you. It's a great way to recognize someone making a difference in their community. And it's a great way of inspiring other problem-solvers and innovators to continue pursuing their work.

    In his blog post yesterday, Secretary Foxx talked about the important quality of “good, old-fashioned American inventiveness.” Today, we’re asking you to help us shine a light on that quality, wherever you find it.

  • Let’s Make Some Noise—It’s Purim!

    Tomorrow evening, Jews in America, Israel and around the globe will celebrate Purim, a holiday known for costumes, carnivals and noisemakers. Even rabbis and synagogue presidents dress up for a playful re-telling of the holiday story during Purim spoofs called spiels. With all the fun of the holiday, it’s also important to remember Purim’s more serious underlying themes of persecution and survival in the face of the planned genocide of ancient Persia’s Jews. Based on events over 2,000 years ago, these themes resonate throughout the centuries and in today’s world as well. By speaking up and speaking out, justice will triumph over evil.

  • NTIA Brings Broadband Opportunities to Alaska

    Ed. note: This blog is cross-posted from The U.S. Department of Commerce.

    Last week, I traveled to Anchorage for the annual economic summit hosted by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, a non-profit regional economic development organization. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is working to improve the quality of life and drive responsible development across the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay, the Kodiak Archipelago and the Pribilof Islands. 

    Last week’s summit had a packed agenda, covering everything from energy conservation to sustainable fishing practices. One big topic of conversation was broadband and the power of high-speed Internet to open up economic, educational and social opportunities in some of the poorest, most isolated communities in our nation. 

    It’s no wonder that the Alaska state nickname is “The Last Frontier.” The state is more than double the size of Texas, with more than 3 million lakes, 34,000 miles of shoreline, and 29,000 square miles of ice fields. But with fewer than 750,000 residents, Alaska includes some of the most remote, sparsely populated pockets of the U.S. Many Alaska Natives reside in tiny villages with just a few hundred people and lead subsistence lifestyles. 

    Broadband offers these communities a way to connect with the wider world and access everything from online classes to healthcare services to job opportunities. It also offers Alaska Natives a way to preserve their indigenous culture for future generations and share it with a global audience. 

  • STEM Access & Diversity: African American History Month Champions of Change

    Last week the White House Office of Public Engagement, along with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, honored ten Champions of Change  in honor of their achievements and contributions to exposing and accelerating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities for more African American youth and communities. Each of the Champions founded innovative ways to inspire interest and provide access for African American youth in STEM whether it’s through hackathons, technology programs for girls of color in underserved school districts, skill development summer programs or STEM enrichment programs for educators. They created opportunities based on their own personal experiences of what they never had growing up.

    African American Champions of Change with Local Students

    The Champions of Change take a picture with local students in the audience who joined in in the Q & A with the Champions. February 26, 2014. (by The U.S. Department of Education)

    Kalimah Priforce was inspired to pursue a career in STEM when he was in grade school and enrolled in a science camp. Coming from a group home, he was excited to experience his favorite subjects in a new environment. As he stood at the bus stop in front of his group home, Kalimah watched the science camp bus drive right past him.  Left with disappointment, that moment was the turning point in his life – he had to get out and take control of his own life. Today, he uses web and mobile-based technology, hackathons with young men of color, to promote mentorship and innovation in technology as a creative outlet instead of an unconquerable challenge. Danielle Lee never let her grade point average define her career or dreams. She went from being a C-student in Biology to having a PHD in Biology. She looked beyond the classroom to apply her technical skills and found creative solutions to everyday problems, even rewiring the electricity in her home so that she could have a television in her room.

    In 2012, President Obama launched the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans  to help accelerate national efforts to support African American students – because improving educational opportunities for all students is critical to ensuring we increase college completion and employment rates to strengthen our nation’s economy.

    These STEM Champions are using strategies that support investments even in our youngest learners which we know will enhance “Opportunity for All,” the center of the President’s State of the Union speech this year, and enable them to pursue and persist in college and specialized training for STEM careers. The future of our country depends on both improving youth access to these fields and ensuring that their interest and skillset is encouraged, developed, and promoted beyond the classroom. 

    Rumana Ahmed is an Executive Assistant to the Director of Public Engagement