A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • "A Victory for the Middle Class" in Ohio

    Yesterday was Election Day across the country, and last night, once the results were known, Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement congratulating the people of Ohio for rejecting Issue 2 -- a law that would have stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

    The Vice President said:

    Tonight the people of Ohio delivered a gigantic victory for the middle class with their overwhelming rejection of a Republican attempt to strip away collective bargaining rights. Fundamental fairness has prevailed. By standing with teachers and firefighters and cops, Ohio has sent a loud and clear message that will be heard all across the country: The middle class will no longer be trampled on. The people of Ohio are to be congratulated.

    Press Secretary Jay Carney echoed those thoughts:

    The President congratulates the people of Ohio for standing up for workers and defeating efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights, and commends the teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers, and other workers who took a stand to defend those rights.

    In his joint address to Congress to introduce the American Jobs Act, President Obama touched on the importance of collective bargaining -- and why doing away with those rights is not the way to get people back to work:

    I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe we can win that race.

    The Ohio measure lost in a landslide, with 62 percent of voters choosing to reject the law.

  • Vice President Biden Talks College Affordability in Pennsylvania

    Vice President Biden in Pittsburgh Speaking About College Affordability

    Vice President Joe Biden answers questions after giving a speech on jobs and education at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 4, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    On Friday, Vice President Biden spoke to a group of students at the University of Pittsburgh. Making it easier to pay for college has been a top priority of the Middle Class Task Force and our entire Administration since the President and Vice President came into office. We stopped paying private lenders to act as middlemen for federal student loans, and invested the savings in student aid. We increased the maximum Pell Grant award by more than $800. And we created the American Opportunity Tax Credit to give students up to $10,000 over four years to help with tuition and other expenses.

    Today, the Vice President focused on our latest initiative – capping student loan payments. Current law allows borrowers to limit their federal loan payments to 15 percent of their discretionary income and forgives all remaining debt after 25 years, or 10 years for graduates working in public service jobs. Last year, following a recommendation from the Middle Class Task Force, the President proposed, and Congress enacted, a plan to lower payments even further starting in 2014. But many students can’t wait until 2014 for relief. So last Wednesday, the President announced an executive action that will cap federal loan payments at 10% of discretionary income and shorten the forgiveness timeline to 20 years starting next year

    We estimate that this new cap lower payments for 1.6 million borrowers, including 60,000 Pennsylvanians. Many of these borrowers will save hundreds of dollars every month. For example, a teacher with $25,000 in debt and a $30,000 salary would see her monthly payments drop from $287 under the standard repayment plan to $114 under the new cap. You can learn more about our plan to help students here.

  • We Can't Wait to Help America's Graduates

    President Obama talks students loans at University of Colorado Denver

    President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after arriving at the University of Colorado Denver campus, in Denver, Colo., Oct. 26, 2011. The President delivered remarks on the steps the Administration is taking to increase college affordability by making it easier to manage student loan debt. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    In this globally competitive, knowledge-based economy, higher education has never been more important. Simply put, America cannot lead in the 21st century without the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world. Nations that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, which is why some form of higher education is an absolute must.

    We also know that college costs have never been higher -- or more difficult to manage. The Administration has already provided aid to millions of students with historic investments in programs like Pell Grants and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. But we realize that many borrowers are struggling to both pay off their loans and make ends meet every month. And fear of being saddled with debt in the long run may deter many potential students from enrolling in college. They need help now.

    That’s why today, President Obama announced new efforts to make college more affordable by helping millions of borrowers better manage their federal student loan debt. We’re taking executive action with two measures that will bring relief to borrowers by lowering their monthly loan payments -- at no cost to taxpayers.

  • Protecting Consumers and Preventing Cell Phone “Bill Shock”

    For more than a year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been working on a problem known as “bill shock.”  Tens of millions of Americans have opened up their cell phone bills and been surprised by hundreds of dollars in unexpected charges.  As President Obama said in a statement today, “we can put an end to that with a simple step: an alert warning consumers that they’re about to hit their limit before fees and charges add up.”

    The FCC announced an agreement with the wireless industry that will protect 97 percent of wireless consumers from “bill shock.”  As a result of today’s agreement, your wireless provider will send you a free alert when you are about to hit your limit on voice, data or text messaging. You will also get an alert after you reach the limit. And you will be notified of international roaming charges when traveling abroad with your phone. All of these changes are part of what President Obama called “our overall and ongoing efforts to protect American consumers by making sure financial transactions are fair, honest, and transparent.”

    Learn more about the agreement here.

    Brian Levine is Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President

  • Vice President Joe Biden Discusses the American Jobs Act in Flint, Michigan

    Vice President Joe Biden greets members of the audience after speaking in Flint, Michigan

    Vice President Joe Biden greets members of the audience after speaking about the American Jobs act at the fire station in Flint, Michigan, October 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Vice President Biden traveled to two Michigan cities this week to highlight how the American Jobs Act would help put cops and firefighters back on the beat and help modernize schools.

    In Flint, Michigan, the Vice President made clear how the Jobs Act would both create jobs and protect the nation's "most basic obligation" to keep our citizens safe by putting cops and firefighters back to work. Over the past 18 months, Flint has been has been forced to cut its police force in half due to budget cuts at the same time violent crime has increased in the city.

    Nationally, in the past 18 months, 10,000 cops have been laid off around the country, while 30,000 police vacancies have gone unfilled. Thousands of firefighters were laid off between 2009 and 2010, and another 7,000 could face possible layoffs this year.

    "It's hard enough to do your job in good economic times. It's a tough job in good times," the Vice President told a group of Flint cops and firefighters assembled inside the city's fire department on Wednesday. "But it's almost impossible to serve the total needs of the community in bad economic times when you get cut in half."

    The American Jobs Act includes $5 billion to support public safety jobs across the country. It will also dramatically improve the way cops, firefighters and other first responders are able to communicate with each other during emergency situations by deploying a nationwide public safety broadband network.

    "I don't buy people who say there is nothing we can do," said the Vice President. "This is a fight for the soul of this country. It's a fight for the middle class. ... It's about making sure America's fire departments, police departments continue to be a large part of the American fabric and be able to do their job. It's about reversing the cycle of crime and fire and unemployment, and starting a new cycle of jobs and prosperity. It's about keeping you safe so you can keep all of us safe. And it's about a President and I who are prepared to fight like crazy to do whatever we can to make sure that you have the resources to be able to protect us."

  • Keeping Teachers like Mrs. Keene in the Classroom

    Last year, Mrs. Keene’s 5th grade class at Oakstead Elementary in Land O’Lakes, Florida had 19 students in it. This year, she has a class of 25. As a result of state budget cuts, Oakstead lost 8 out of 83 teachers for the 2011-2012 school year, eliminating nearly 10% of the teaching staff at a school that serves over 1000 students.
    During his visit to Oakstead on Tuesday, Vice President Biden had the chance to visit Mrs. Keene’s class, as well as speak to a group of parents and teachers about how the American Jobs Act would help keep and put hundreds of thousands of teachers in the classroom. 

    Vice President Joe Biden Visits Mrs. Keene's 5th Grade Classroom and Takes Questions from Students, at Oakstead Elementary School

    Vice President Joe Biden visits Mrs. Keene's 5th grade classroom and takes questions from students, at Oakstead Elementary School in Land O' Lakes, Florida, October 4, 2011. (Official White House by David Lienemann)

    The 8 teaching positions lost at Oakstead were just a few of the 513 positions eliminated district-wide when Pasco County Public Schools had to close a $54 million budget shortfall this year.  After years of budget cuts from the state and declining tax revenues – the district now receives $780 less per pupil in funding than it did in 2007 – and cutting all of the overhead it could, the District was forced to make cuts that impact the classroom. As a result, kids are in bigger class sizes – some over the state limit – and receive less arts, music and physical education.

    In his remarks, the Vice President described how smaller class sizes in the early years can increase the likelihood that kids attend and graduate from college as well as how access to arts and music education may help keep kids engaged in school and prevent them from dropping out.
    Unfortunately, kids across the country are seeing the kind of cuts that the Vice President saw at Oakstead. In the last 12 months we have lost nearly 200,000 education jobs. That’s why the American Jobs Act includes $30 billion to support 400,000 education jobs nationwide. These critical resources will help prevent lay-offs and allow districts like Pasco County to rehire teachers already laid off, as well as hire new teachers.