ST. LOUIS (NNPA) – Responding to an inquiry by the editor of The St. Louis American newspaper, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood last week outlined portions of the $827 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that he says will specifically impact the Black community.
The White House response came after a telephone press conference with Midwest reporters during which NNPA award-winning editor Alvin A. Reed asked LaHood about the minority participation aspects of the act, which President Obama has implored Congress to pass this week.
Initially, LaHood hedged, responding, "That's a point I have really not considered. We'll have to get back to (him,) rather than give an answer I don't really know."
Only hours after a story reporting the inquiry and response was posted on stlAmerican.com Feb. 5, LaHood issued the following detailed strategy, titled, "African Americans and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan" (The response has been lightly edited for style and clarity by the NNPA News Service):
• General: The majority of the provisions in this recovery and reinvestment plan will assist African-Americans, who have been dramatically impacted during these tough times, in making it through this period with tax cuts for 95 percent of families, programs including extension of unemployment benefits, COBRA healthcare benefits, and food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), while also preparing them for new opportunities with training for new jobs in existing and emerging industries.
• Tax Cuts: This plan seeks to put money in the hands of consumers as quickly as possible through tax cuts for 95 percent of families. This is especially important for African-Americans who have experienced a reversal of fortune in the gains in wages and salary reached during the 1990s compared to others in the workforce. This immediate infusion of resources will not only allow them to purchase the items they need for their families, but also help rebuild our economy.
• Job Creation: The unemployment rate for African-Americans was 12.1 percent and had risen to 12.6 percent when new job numbers were announced Feb. 6. This plan will create jobs with its investments in rebuilding roads and bridges and retrofitting government buildings while also working to help prepare job seekers for the 21st Century economy with training for new "green jobs" and other emerging industries. The key is ensuring that African-Americans have access to information about all of these opportunities.
• Education: Right now 95 percent of African-American children rely on public schools in America yet a great number of these systems lack the funding they need to deliver the education that our children deserve and the facilities themselves are generally inadequate. This plan makes a historic investment in school modernization sufficient to renovate and modernize 10,000 schools, which also saves or creates jobs.
The plan also invests in our children's future by doubling the Early Head Start program which will provide additional pre-k services to more than 350,000 children and create at least 15,000 new teaching and teaching assistant jobs. Efforts are also being made to increase the Pell Grant maximum award to $500 making college affordable for 7 million students.
Finally, understanding that we are living during a time when tough choices have to be made, state and local governments should not have to cut education to make their budgets work. This plan provides resources so that potential education cuts can be bypassed in the immediate future.
• Healthcare: African-Americans suffer from higher percentages of chronic diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes while also suffering from a lack of access to quality care. Therefore during a time when many who rely on receiving healthcare through their employers are losing jobs, access to quality healthcare is an even greater concern. This plan offers a new tax credit to help families keep their health insurance through COBRA as well as a new option in Medicaid for low-income people who lack access to COBRA. Adjustments will also be made in funding formulas for state Medicaid programs so that Medicaid and SCHIP are not impacted by state budget shortfalls, protecting 20 million people whose eligibility might be at risk.
• Public Services:
Local governments are threatened with budget cuts that could impair services, including support from police and fire departments. No community that relies on these services to protect them should have to endure cuts in these areas. This plan invests $4 billion for state and local law enforcement funding.
In the Feb. 5 call, LaHood said the Recovery Act would save or create millions of jobs each year, with many coming in building and repairing roads, bridges and transit lines. More than 90 percent of the jobs would be in the private sector, he said.
It remains unknown whether there will be any specific inclusion plan through the state and federal levels. However, days before inauguration Obama told the NNPA News Service that many such infrastructure projects are slated specifically for urban areas where a majority of African-Americans live and work.
LaHood said, "The idea is getting money out of the door for projects, this spring, summer and fall."
NNPA Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney contributed to this article.