Winter 2014
PERSPECTIVE

President Obama’s Leadership and Legacy: African-American Priorities are the Nation’s Priorities

By Yohannes Abraham, Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs serves as Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Prior to joining the White House, Abraham served as the Deputy National Political Director on the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign, tasked with managing political strategy and operations in swing states. After the election, Abraham was named Director of Public Engagement for the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Abraham is a native of Springfield, VA.

President Obama’s Leadership and Legacy: African-American Priorities are the Nation’s Priorities

When President Obama took office, he made it a top priority to ensure that all Americans, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or creed, have the opportunity to live up to their full potential and achieve the American Dream.  This meant working to eliminate disparities, injustices, and opportunity gaps wherever they appear in our society.  I am very happy to report that we have made significant progress toward this goal—progress that we aim to continue over the next two years.

Opening the doors of opportunity for all means building a foundation upon which all communities can stand—one in which all Americans have the opportunity to get a quality early education, have job opportunities, and have access to affordable health care for them and their families.  Over the past six years, we have taken historic steps toward building a solid foundation on which our communities can stand.  Under the President’s leadership, the private sector has added 10.6 million jobs over 56 straight months of job growth—the longest streak of job growth in recorded history.  And though we still have more work to do, unemployment among African Americans has decreased 5.5% since its peak in 2010.  And we are working hard to maintain that momentum.

The President engaged a number of employers and business leaders in 2014, and unveiled a set of “best practices” for recruiting and hiring the long-term unemployed, 20% of whom are African American.  These strategies are being undertaken by over 80 Fortune 500 companies, and over 20 members of the Fortune 50 — and are being shared around the country to help businesses of all sizes put the skills and potential of this critical workforce segment to the best possible use.  The Department of Labor will soon

be awarding $150 million in “Ready to Work Partnership” grants to support the best models for partnerships between employers, non-profits, and the job training system to help train and connect the long-term unemployed to work.

President Obama has expanded access to college because every child deserves an education that equips him or her with the skills to find and succeed in a good-paying job. By re-directing subsidies from private lenders to students, the Administration raised the maximum Pell Grant award to $5,635 in 2013. Meanwhile, the number of Pell Grant recipients has increased by 50% since 2008 to 3 million borrowers.  Also, for families struggling with the cost of college, we have created the American Opportunity Tax Credit—which is worth up to $10,000 over four years of college. 

The President has also committed to building stronger neighborhoods and communities in America’s inner-cities. The Choice Neighborhoods program has provided over $300 million to plan and implement the transformation of high-poverty areas into sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods by linking housing improvements with services, schools, transportation and access to jobs. It also expanded the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which has provided $7 billion in funding to communities to manage the vacant and foreclosed properties. 

African American families have been particularly hard-hit by the housing crisis. The President has taken action to help homeowners, including expanding access to refinancing – allowing responsible borrowers to save an average of $3,000 per year. The Administration has also taken measures to allow homeowners behind on their payments to modify their mortgages to avoid foreclosure – with nearly 1.4 million borrowers having received permanent modifications through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), the Administration’s cornerstone foreclosure prevention program, and millions more receiving private modifications that were modeled off of HAMP. 

Millions of African Americans have gained coverage through Medicaid and the Health Insurance Marketplace as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Over 7.8 million African Americans with private insurance now have access to expanded preventive services with no cost sharing, and we have cut the uninsured rate for African Americans by 3.8% since our first Open Enrollment period in 2013. 

November 15, 2014 marked the start of our second Open Enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act, and we are working hard to enroll millions more Americans who are still living without health insurance.  

Under the leadership of Attorney General Holder, the Department of Justice has taken steps to protect and defend civil rights for all Americans.  The Civil Rights Division has opened 20 investigations in the last five fiscal years, which is more than double the previous five years, and has reached 14 settlement agreements to reform law enforcement practices (compared to none in the previous five years). And with the nomination of Loretta Lynch as the next Attorney General, the President has signaled that, like Attorney General Holder, he is committed to defending civil rights and equal justice for all. 

Lastly, ensuring young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential, the President is expanding opportunities for all young people to succeed. In February 2014, the President unveiled the “My Brother’s Keeper” (MBK) initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.  As part of this effort, President Obama has challenged communities across the country to accept the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, which requires a commitment by mayors, tribal leaders, or county executives, to convene relevant stakeholders and build a comprehensive plan to support communities of color nationwide.  Over 150 communities have already signed up, and momentum behind this effort is building around the country.

Throughout his presidency, the unique challenges facing the African American community have been at the forefront of President Obama’s priorities.  From affordable health care and education, to working families and a higher minimum wage, President Obama and our entire team are focused everyday on building a stronger economy and a future based on opportunity, justice, and equality, as some of the most fundamental ideals at the core of our country.

Yohannes Abraham

Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs serves as Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Prior to joining the White House, Abraham served as the Deputy National Political Director on the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign, tasked with managing political strategy and operations in swing states. After the election, Abraham was named Director of Public Engagement for the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Abraham is a native of Springfield, VA.

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