Though the economy continues to struggle, and black Americans in particular face record joblessness, the White House says its programs have made a difference.
The Obama administration on Friday released a report, Pathways to Opportunity, outlining what the White House says are programs it has instituted over the last three years to help struggling Americans.
The report, “Creating Pathways to Opportunity,” outlines the programs the administration says have been intended to help Americans “climb the ladder to the middle class and stay there,” and that are intended to help keep Americans from falling into poverty during the downturn, according to a White House press release. The report also is intended to promote the American Jobs Act.
“What this is, is a report that puts into context the work the administration has done over the past two and a half years to address the issues facing low income Americans,” White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes told theGrio. “Both those who have been living in poverty and trying to clime out, and those in the middle class who are sliding, and struggling to stay in the middle class.”
Barnes said many of the programs were put in place to address the economic collapse that began in 2007, but that “we understand that there are a lot of people who were struggling even before the recession began.”
Some of the programs outlined in the report include the payroll tax cut enacted during the budget compromise of 2010, and the expansion of unemployment benefits. Others include the expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that the administration claims helped keep 3.9 million Americans, including 1.7 million children out of poverty in 2010.
But the report attempts to fold together administration initiatives across several sectors, including education reforms like Race to the Top and Pell Grant funding increases, as well as programs like the “Hardest Hit Fund,” which are designed to keep unemployed homeowners from losing their homes to foreclosure, and others designed to keep neighborhood blight from spreading as a result of foreclosures.
The administration has faced criticism over its handling of the mortgage crisis, including over the fact that only a small number of Americans have been able to take advantage of mortgage restructuring and other programs designed to stem the record foreclosure rate.
Barnes called the housing crisis “one of the toughest nuts to crack,” and said the administration has tried to tackle the problem through financial reform, to prevent the “bad practices” on mortgages and credit cards that led many people into financial trouble. And Barnes defended the administration’s mortgage modification efforts, saying that while the administration would have liked to see more people able to take advantage of them, “we’re still talking about 4 million people who have been able to benefit.”
As for whether the big banks are cooperating with the administration, Barnes said “we think the needle is moving, but we’re pushing as hard as we can within the boundaries of the authorities we have.”
And she pointed to the administration-backed settlement negotiations between 49 state attorneys general (California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, recently opted out) and the nation’s biggest banks over their mortgage practices as proof that action is being taken to address the causes of the mortgage meltdown.
“We continue to try to use every tool to get this done,” Barnes said. “I’m not going to pretend we’ve accomplished all we’ve wanted to accomplish. And the president is frustrated that there are people who are (still) losing their homes. He’s concerned about the impact of the foreclosure crisis on people, including in the African-American community, for whom home ownership has been a key way to build people into the middle class.”
On the Jobs Act, which the Senate rejected week on a mostly party-line vote (with a small number of Democrats joining Republicans in opposition), Barnes said the White House expects “pieces” of the jobs plan to come back up for a vote soon.
“We still have the vast majority of Democrats (in the Senate)who are supporting this,” Barnes said. “And we have an American public that’s really frustrated. I hear it when I go out and talk to people. They’re sick of the gridlock when they need jobs. And given the fact that people have supported (proposals like the ones in the American Jobs Act) in the past, and given fact that we have an American public that supports this … I’ve beein working in the Congress for more than a decade, and one thing I know to be true is that when members start to hear from their constituents that ‘enough is enough’ and they want change, that starts to turn the tide.”
Read the White House report: Creating Pathways to Opportunity, here.