A Strong Middle Class Blog

  • Vice President Biden Announces Boosts for Small Business in Ohio

    Watch Vice President Biden announce $20 billion in additional small business lending here.

    Small businesses across the country got a boost yesterday when Vice President Biden announced that 13 of the nation’s largest banks, in partnership with the Small Business Administration, have committed to increase small business lending by a combined $20 billion over the next three years.

    Speaking with SBA Administrator Karen Mills at Wrap Tite Inc. – a small packing and shipping material company in Solon, Ohio – the Vice President told the story of how a recent $1.5 million SBA-supported loan allowed Wrap Tite to purchase and renovate a new facility in Solon, as well as hire five new workers.  The new lending commitments announced today means more small businesses like Wrap Tite will have access to the capital they need to help grow the nation’s economy at the local level. As Vice President Biden said, "Small business men and women – who are the engine of economic growth in America – create two out of every three jobs in America."

    But, as the Vice President said in Ohio, the lending boost for small businesses is only part of the story, and we cannot stop there. Urging Congress to pass the American Jobs Act right away, he described two key ways the bill would help small businesses grow and hire in Ohio and across the country – by cutting their taxes and putting money back in their customer’s pockets:

  • Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge

    Yesterday Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the release of the application for the Administration’s new Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge. The Challenge is committing $500 million to help states build statewide early learning systems and improve early learning programs. It’s a critical investment in an area that hasn’t gotten enough attention. The Middle Class Task Force has focused on child care because we know that it’s an issue families struggle with every day. With most families dependent on two incomes to get by, families just can’t afford not to have access to child care. But just any child care won’t and shouldn’t do. Parents want and deserve the peace of mind that their children are safe and receiving the high-quality education they need when they drop them off at day care.

    For too long parents haven’t been able to make informed decisions about child care because there has been no way to compare the quality of one child care provider to that of another. This program will help change that, incenting states to build statewide tiered quality rating and improvement systems to rate providers and improve early learning programs. Improving programs will require more resources and professional support for early childhood educators. This critical workforce, made up disproportionately of women, works hard to take care of our nation’s youngest, but just doesn’t get the resources they need to be successful.  The competition calls on states to provide these educators with appropriate compensation, professional development, career advancement opportunities, and a common set of standards for workforce knowledge and competencies so all educators know what they need to do and have the resources to be successful. 

    Here is more information from the Department of Education blog:

  • Bringing Transparency to College Costs

    More and more, Americans understand the critical role that earning a college degree plays in their lives, with prospects for higher earnings and further advancements that extend throughout their careers. However, one of the greatest challenges Americans face is the rising cost of higher education.

    To help students make informed decisions about their choice for higher education, today the Department of Education launched an online College Affordability and Transparency Center on the Department of Education’s College Navigator website. As part of this Center, the Department posted lists that highlight institutions with the highest tuition prices, highest net prices, and institutions whose prices are rising at the fastest rates. Institutions whose prices are rising the fastest will report why costs have gone up and how the institution will address rising prices. The Department will summarize these reports and make them publicly available to parents and students.

    The President has been committed to making higher education more affordable, and today’s announcement complements our ongoing efforts. Since taking office, we have worked to expand student aid, improve options to repay student loans, and give more students access to higher education. We have also enhanced consumer information on the FAFSA and on the College Navigator portal, a resource that can provide information on thousands of institutions of higher education across the nation. These existing tools will complement the informative resources newly available today.

    But colleges also have a role to play as we work to ease the financial burden of higher education. In his State of the Union address last year, the President called on colleges to do a better job of keeping costs down. Additionally, state budget constraints present increasing challenges for affordability. Too often the answer has been to cut aid to public colleges and increase tuition, pushing the financial burden on families already struggling to make ends meet.

    Ultimately, better information alone will not cure the problem of college affordability. However, it will enhance the choices and decisions made by families as they pursue higher education. The new College Transparency and Affordability Center is just a first step in helping students better understand their path in postsecondary education; the Administration will continue to promote transparency in educational costs that will help all current and prospective students of higher education make a smart investment in their postsecondary studies.

    Melody Barnes is Director of the Domestic Policy Council.

  • A Major Investment In Helping Students Get Off On The Right Foot

    "Investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do as a nation,” said Secretary Arne Duncan earlier this morning at a town hall meeting with US Human and Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce a new $500 million state-level Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. Secretary Sebelius explained that “the only way America can out-compete the rest of the world is if we out-educate the rest of the world … And the only way we can do that is if every child gets a healthy start and a rich early learning experience.”

    The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge rewards states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination and assessment mechanisms, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development and family engagement initiatives.

  • VA Enhances Support of Family Caregivers

    Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the Department of Veterans Affairs blog. The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a new program that will offer a lifeline to families across the country. The new Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, described below, provides a whole new range of direct benefits to caregivers of our nation’s most seriously injured veterans. This is especially good news for women —over 90% of those caring for veterans are women, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Read on for more on this crucial new program. The Middle Class Task Force continues to support initiatives to support all caregivers. Yesterday’s announcement marks a real victory for caregivers and an important step in our efforts to support these men and women who support us when we are most in need.

    Today, we, at VA, are posting the interim final rule that will allow us to roll out enhanced services, including a monetary stipend, health insurance, expanded training and other support services to a whole new category of people serving our Nation – our Family Caregivers of Veterans who sustained a serious injury in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001. This new program will offer those Veterans the ability to remain in a comforting home environment surrounded by loved ones and supported by a dedicated Family Caregiver.

    VA has long known that having a Family Caregiver in a home environment can enhance the health and well-being of Veterans under VA care. Therefore, we are pleased to add this new program to the wide range of services VA already offers to support Veterans and their Family Caregivers at home. The regulation is available on our Caregiver website and the application process for the new program for post-9/11 Veterans injured in the line of duty is also described in a fact sheet. We’re excited to begin accepting applications on May 9th. Look for the application at www.caregiver.va.gov the morning of the 9th or call our Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274. We’re waiting to assist.

  • An Historic Meeting at the White House with Memphis Sanitation Workers

    Civil rights, economic and social justice, the rights of workers to bargain collectively...the air here at the White House was thick with these sentiments today.

    They were brought to us by eight of the surviving members of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike, who came to the White House today for the first time in their lives.

    President Barack Obama talks with participants from the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, an iconic campaign in civil rights and labor rights history, during a meeting in the Map Room of the White House, April 29, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    [View Full Size]

    If that long-ago strike sticks out in your mind, it’s because Dr. Martin Luther King went to Memphis to support the almost entirely African-American sanitation workforce as they struck for union recognition, better pay, safer working conditions, and, fundamentally, respect.

    It was there, on April 3, that Dr. King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.

    And it was there, on April 4, when that amazing man was taken from us.

    Please, if you do nothing else today, read (or reread) that speech.  Read it to yourself, to your partner, to your parents and to your kids.  You would be hard-pressed to find another document that so perfectly weaves together the beautiful yet all too fragile fabric of the historical struggle for basic human rights.