BLACK FARMERS’ SETTLEMENT. On December 8, President Obama signed legislation that provided $1.15 billion to black farmers who sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1997 case, Pigford v. Glickman. In the suit, which settled out of court 11 years ago, the farmers claimed the government discriminated against them by denying or cheating them out of federal aid. More than 75,000 farmers will receive up to $50,000 each. Some have suggested that it made a difference to have a black man in the White House. In any case, the symbolism is clear, as is the message that the government wants to correct a grievous injustice. “This is a settlement that addressed a historical wrong, I mean something that this country is not about and should not be about,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
BUREAU OF CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION. The new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) is an important part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reform America’s financial regulations. Designed to protect consumers from abusive and fraudulent practices in the financial services industry, the bureau “will be an independent bureau within the Federal Reserve System that will help empower consumers with the information they need to make financial decisions that are best for them and their families.” The CFPB will promote fairness and transparency for mortgages, credit cards, and other financial products and services, and establish rules so that consumers know their costs and features. Minorities were hit particularly hard by the home foreclosure crisis. Blacks and Latinos were steered into predatory subprime mortgages more than other groups, and as a result lost their homes twice as often. A stunning 11 percent of blacks have lost their homes to foreclosures, with somewhere between $72 billion and $93 billion in wealth vanishing forever.
CREDIT CARD REFORM. Under Obama, abusive credit card companies are no longer protected. With the final set of provisions of the credit card reforms taking effect in 2010, the deceptive “fine print” of credit card agreements is no more. Credit card users can opt out of certain terms. Millions of consumers will have more time to pay their monthly bills, avoid retroactive interest rate increases, receive more notice of changes to credit card terms. Predatory lending costs American borrowers $25 billion each year, and the poor, African-Americans and Latinos are particularly susceptible to fraudulent practices and higher interest rates.
ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act invests $5 billion for early learning programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, child care, and children with special needs. The Act also provides $77 billion to improve elementary and secondary education, and to stabilize state education budgets. Black children enrolled in Head Start were “significantly less likely to have been booked or charged with a crime,” while African-American males were more likely to finish high school and participate in the work force. In August 2010, President Obama approved $26 billion in aid to school districts to avoid teacher and public employee layoffs.
HBCUS and STUDENT LOAN AID. In 2010, the president signed an executive order for the president’s Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The order provides $98 million in extra funding for HBCUs for 10 years. The order—which also provided for $20.5 million more to the HBCU Capital Financing program and $64.5 million for the Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institution program—makes nearly $400 million more available in Pell Grants to students at all colleges. Obama appointed Hampton University President William Harvey as chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In addition, President Obama made a sweeping overhaul of the federal student loan program by eliminating fees to private banks. Much of the $68 billion savings will go to student aid, and the law invests $2 billion in community colleges.
MINORITY ACCESS TO CAPITAL. As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the Obama stimulus package, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has expanded its outreach to minority owned businesses. Twenty percent of the billions of dollars in SBA loans provided by the stimulus have gone to minority-owned companies.
HEALTH CARE REFORM. The historic $940 billion health care reform bill will allow 32 million additional Americans to receive health care coverage. Under the terms of the legislation, insurance companies cannot arbitrarily drop policy holders. Insurance companies cannot deny children coverage based on a preexisting condition, and in 2014, insurance companies may not deny coverage to anyone with a preexisting condition. Children can stay on their parent’s insurance plans through age 26. People who make between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for subsidies to purchase insurance. Further, Medicaid would be available to everyone with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level, which is $10,830 for an individual and $22,050 for a family of four. In recent years, one-third of working age African-American adults, more than 6 million people, have been uninsured. According to the Urban Institute, health disparities among African-Americans and Latinos relative to whites cost the U.S. health care system $23.9 billion in 2009. From 2009 through 2018, it is estimated the total cost of these disparities will be $337 billion.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE EXTENSIONS. An important part of the $856 billion tax cut compromise that President Obama negotiated with Republican lawmakers is the 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. The deal does not help the so-called “99ers,” those long-term unemployed who have been out of work more than 99 weeks and whose benefits have been exhausted. This extension is good news for African-Americans, who are typically unemployed at a rate twice that of the general population. In November, the black jobless rate was 16.1 percent— not including the underemployed and those who have given up looking— while the national rate was 9.8 percent. In New York City, only one in every four young black men has a job.
DIVERSITY. The Obama administration is the most diverse White House in U.S. history. Eric Holder is the first black Attorney General. The UN Ambassador, Susan E. Rice, is also an African American, as is EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, NASA chief Charles F. Bolden, Jr., and Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin. Diversity is extending to the federal bench as well, with blacks as 25 percent of the President’s judicial nominees, and minorities as nearly half. For example, Irene Cornelia Berger was confirmed as the first black federal judge in West Virginia. Tanya Pratt became the first African-American appointee to a federal judgeship in Indiana, and Michelle Childs became the second black federal judge in South Carolina. President Obama recently nominated Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, a federal district judge in Tennessee, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Last year, the President nominated Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina and third justice of color to sit on the Supreme Court. Elections do matter.
SCHIP. In 2009, President Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act (SCHIP), which reauthorized and expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). The program—which has provided health care to 7 million low- and middle-income children whose parents afford private insurance but are not eligible for Medicaid – has been expanded to 11 million children under Obama. In recent years, over 80 percent of uninsured black children and over 70 percent of uninsured Latino children were eligible for the program. Before the program, it was more difficult for these children to have their health care needs met.
CRACK VS. POWDER COCAINE. In 2010, the President signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the huge disparity between sentences for possession of crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine. Under the old law, possession of five grams of crack resulted in the same mandatory five-year sentence as five hundred grams of powder cocaine. Obama reduced the 100 to 1 ratio to 18 to 1. Crack users are disproportionately African-American, and the war on drugs has been a war on the poor and people of color, destroying black families and communities. As a result of America’s drug laws, the U.S. has the world’s largest prison population, and a majority of prisoners are blacks and Latinos.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY. Obama funded the design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History, which is scheduled to open in 2015 on the National Mall in Washington. The museum will occupy a five-acre site near the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument. The Smithsonian is reviewing design proposals from six architectural teams.
CIVIL RIGHTS. During the eight years of the Bush era, the U.S. Department of Justice was a politicized agency that went after political adversaries and failed to investigate civil rights violations. Under President Obama, the Justice Department and the EEOC have returned to enforcing employment discrimination laws, the things they were meant to do.
- of 14
With 2010 coming to a close, and the first two years of the Obama presidency now history, this is a perfect time to take a look at some of President Obama’s major accomplishments that benefit black America. In light of the bad economy and attacks on Obama from all directions, the public has lost sight of the many accomplishments of the nation’s first black president. Perhaps some of the blame falls squarely with the White House for political miscalculations and missteps, and failing to get the word out and publicize its accomplishments. The following is theGrio’s list of 13 things President Obama has done for black America.