Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • The President’s Budget and Charitable Contributions: Driving Revenue and Demonstrating Fairness to Benefit America

    Earlier this week, President Obama sent to Congress his budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year. It is a bold proposal that demonstrates the President’s commitment to create an American economy that is built to last, one where job creation flourishes as a result of strategic investments to support entrepreneurship, infrastructure, and innovation–and one in which we restore fiscal responsibility and put the Budget on a sustainable path.  As we move forward to boost the economy and to strengthen our communities, nonprofit organizations have a vital role to play. 

    Reflecting the Importance of Charitable Giving Through Fundamental Tax Reform

    The President has called for fundamental reforms that would cut rates and tax complexity, cut unnecessary tax expenditures, cut the deficit, and observe the Buffett rule—that no one making more than $1 million should pay less as a share of their income in taxes than middle class families.

    This will require tough choices.  But as we make those tough choices, the Administration recognizes the importance of tax incentives for charity.

    That’s why we chose to make clear that the Buffett Rule should not disadvantage individuals who make large contributions to charity, while exempting charitable deductions from the list of tax breaks that should be eliminated for millionaires. In doing so, the charitable deduction is the only major tax benefit exempted from both of these two proposals we put forward as part of tax reform.

    Targeted Reduction in the Value of Deductions and Exclusions as Part of a Balanced Framework of Deficit Reduction

    Even as the President has put forward principles for comprehensive tax reform, his Budget also includes a set of specific proposals as part of a down payment towards a balanced deficit reduction plan. One of the ideas we’ve put forward as part of that down payment is limiting itemized deductions for the highest-income earners. 

  • A Look Back at Joplin: United We Succeed

    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.

  • Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through Service

    Monuments are built to those who change the course of history. It is right and fitting that a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. now stands in the heart of our nation’s Capital.  Even as we renew our understanding of Dr. King’s legacy by visiting this beautiful monument; we can honor the legacy of Dr. King by following his example, by serving and volunteering in our communities.

    Dr. King called service the “new definition of greatness.” He believed that the work we undertake on behalf of others is the most important work of all. He devoted his life to this notion – advancing equality, social justice and economic opportunity for all Americans.  Dr. King challenged all of us to do our part to build a more perfect union.

    That is why, for nearly two decades, the nation has marked the life of Dr. King with a national Day of Service. Today, Americans from every state will deliver meals, refurbish schools and community centers, collect food and clothing, sign up mentors, support veterans and military families, and more. Thousands of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members will lend a hand to community-based projects. Individuals and groups, of all ages and backgrounds, will come together – as Dr. King would have wanted – in service.

  • Champions of Change: Making a Difference through Service and Innovation

    Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

    Last week, we gathered fourteen inspirational citizens to hear about their tireless efforts to renew and strengthen their communities through service and innovation. We met in New Orleans, the host city for the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, an annual convening of over 4,000 people working to make a difference in the lives of others. President Barack Obama has called New Orleans a “symbol of resilience and community”—and what better place to highlight these Champions of Change than the Crescent City and the living laboratory for social innovation and civic participation that it has become.

    Each of this week’s Champions exemplifies our Administration’s firm belief that the best ideas really do come from outside of Washington—from local communities across the country where, everyday, individuals are taking on our most pressing social challenges and developing solutions that work. From a twelve-year old environmental activist to established and highly regarded non-profit leaders, these Champions are making an extraordinary impact in communities, in schools, and in the workplace. They are building homes, creating opportunities for young people, veterans, and immigrants, and helping disaster victims rebuild their lives. Through their actions, they demonstrate that citizen leadership is critical to “winning the future.” They are redefining civic participation in the 21st century.

    Our Administration is investing in these community solutions. Many of the Champions of Change are recipients of Social Innovation Fund grants—YouthBuild USA, the Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative, and iMentor—and we are so excited by the work that they are doing on the ground. Others are partnering with national service programs like VISTA and AmeriCorps, and delivering critical services to help communities recover and rebuild from disasters and to support the reintegration of veterans in our society—Equal Justice Works, Alabama State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, and the Washington Commission for National and Community Service.

    I would be remiss if I did not mention the St. Bernard Project. This New Orleans non-profit has drawn volunteers from across the country to rebuild hundreds of homes throughout St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s been quite an extraordinary example of “shared responsibility” and the possibilities that can come from citizens pulling together around a common goal. The President once noted that he saw in the St. Bernard Project “the symbol that this city has become.” And, indeed, the work of each of these Champions has such resonance.

    Please visit the Champions of Change website to learn more about these individuals and their work. We hope these Champions and their causes will inspire and energize you to make a difference in your own communities, and, by doing so, to win the future.

    Marta Urquilla is the Senior Policy Advisor to the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

  • Volunteers Prove Essential to Disaster Response

    CNCS Disaster Services Unit

    Volunteers help gut homes, aiding in recovery efforts from recent storms. May 4, 2011. (by Corporation for National and Community Service)

    Over the past few weeks, a series of devastating tornadoes swept across the country.  From Mississippi to Virginia, communities are suffering great losses.  The Corporation for National and Community Service’s (CNCS) Disaster Services Unit rapidly mobilized thousands of volunteers to assist local recovery efforts.  

    Working closely with the State Service Commissions and FEMA, CNCS has built partnerships across public and private sectors to provide critical services to communities in need.  In Kentucky, AmeriCorps members support local Red Cross shelters.  In St. Louis, AmeriCorps Safety Service Corps deployed members to remove trees from roofs and tarp houses to keep out the rain.  Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) volunteers are providing services such as  checking on the welfare of affected residents, clearing debris, delivering clean water, assisting residents with relocation, distributing donations, organizing sandbag efforts to prevent flooding, transporting elderly residents to medical facilities, and providing case management support.

    For Kelly DeGraff, the Senior Advisor for Disaster Services at CNCS, the agency's response to the tornadoes in Mississippi was particularly poignant.  In less than 24 hours after the tornado struck Jackson, MS, CNCS volunteers were on the ground serving affected residents.  A team of six NCCC members from the Southern Region campus in Vicksburg, MS helped to feed residents and distribute supplies.  For nearly a week, team Leader Moses Moua, 23, of Orlando, FL and Corps Member Michael Brown, 20, of Indianapolis, IN provided day and night staffing at the American Red Cross shelter in Clinton, MS.

    While working in the shelter, Moua and Brown spent time with Frelicia May and her family of sixteen.  May, her husband, sister, children and grandchildren were painfully familiar with being in a shelter following a storm.  After losing everything during Hurricane Katrina, they had drifted to several places in Louisiana and Texas before settling near her family in Jackson, MS.  On April 15, when the tornado struck May’s new home, she gathered the few things she could salvage and headed to her sister’s two-bedroom apartment.  They quickly realized that the cramped apartment would not provide the large family sufficient space or resources to get back on their feet.

    The May family took refuge in the American Red Cross shelter where Moua and Brown welcomed them.  After a few days at the shelter, May spoke affectionately of the NCCC members – “We love them.  They laugh and talk to us and treat us like family.  Michael is really good with the kids.”  In addition to providing the families with basic needs, Brown has been playing tic-tac-toe, basketball, coloring, and reading to the 13 children.

    “I can do a lot of things that I couldn’t do before, like build things.  I knew exactly what to do when I got to this shelter because we had training on it,” said Brown.  He said that being an NCCC volunteer has taught him a lot of skills and given him training that he didn’t know he would utilize.  It has also taught him the power of giving back.

    Throughout the year, CNCS engages more than 1.5 million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service.  Senior Corps, AmeriCorps State and National, and the AmeriCorps NCCC volunteers have been particularly active in responding to the recent disasters.  These programs play an essential role assisting communities responding to a disaster.  CNCS volunteer programs provide a great deal of value both to the communities in which they serve and the volunteers themselves. 

    For more information, contact the CNCS Disaster Services Unit at

    Divya Kumaraiah is the Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

  • Spotlight on Community Colleges Vying for Prize

    Last October, at the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, President Obama announced the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, a new, privately-funded prize to recognize, reward, and inspire outstanding outcomes in community colleges nationwide. 

    Yesterday, Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated the 120 community colleges that – due to exceptional student outcomes – were selected by the Aspen Institute to compete for the inaugural $1 million purse.  In Round Two, the Aspen Institute will invite these 120 eligible institutions to submit applications containing additional detailed data on completion rates, labor market outcomes (employment and earnings), and student learning outcomes.  Eight to ten finalists will be named in September and – following campus visits by Aspen in the Fall - prize winners will be announced in December.

    Excellence in community colleges is critical to reaching President Obama’s goal that the U.S. lead the world in college graduates by 2020 and to preparing the American workforce to compete in the global economy.