At holiday briefing, White House previews second term agenda for minorities, women

WASHINGTON – On Friday, the White House Office of Digital Strategy Invited fourteen online women-focused magazines and publications to an exclusive “Women’s Online Summit.”

The summit featured a host of senior White House policy advisers, staff and presidential appointees including senior adviser to President Barack Obama Valerie Jarret; Tina Tchen, First Lady Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and the executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls; Jeanne Lambrew, deputy assistant to the president for health policy; and Jason Furman of the National Economics Council.

Female reporters from various outlets, including TheGrio, were treated to a tour of the executive mansion for a first look at the Christmas decorations for the 2013 holiday season, as well as to have a chat with White House pastry chef Bill Yosses, who gave us a sneak preview of a gingerbread replica of what the White House would have looked like back in 1798.  The house at that time was a rustic white stone, versus the pure white it was later painted, and the chef’s team was able to recreate the earlier stone.

The White House holiday decorations had a “fruit theme” this year, with a down home country feel, as opposed to past years where the feel was more formal and ornate.  Bright colors: oranges, purples, fruit-decorated tapestries and stained glass adorned the long hallways leading to the East Room, and were repeated in each of the state reception rooms in the mansion itself.

Bo, the Obama’s prized pup, had his own corner again this year, and the U.S. Military had two trees dedicated to their service, including the official White House tree in the Blue Room. Handmade ornaments came from children around the nation, as well as from a woman who specializes in creative arts and craft decorating.

Visit also focused on policy

Here are some of the key policy initiatives and highlights from the briefing that directly impact the African-American community and women:

  • Sex Trafficking will be a major focus for the president and his team in the second term. The White House team gave a very detailed briefing on the collaborative efforts this administration has undertaken and will continue to over the next four years in trying to put a stop to the more than 200,000 women and girls who are trafficked here at home and the over 20 million that law enforcement agencies worldwide estimate are trafficked globally (See President Obama’s speech to the Clinton Global Initiative this past September on the subject.)  This subject is important because black and brown women and girls are disproportionately more likely to be targeted for trafficking in the U.S. and worldwide.
  • The First Lady will continue her focus on the health of our nation’s kids with her “Let’s Move” initiative as well as working with our military families through her “Joining Forces” program. Mrs. Obama will be working to bring healthy foods to communities that have traditionally been denied access to organic foods, leafy vegetables, and fresh garden items. Tchen and Jarret stopped by to share some insights on the work they are doing to make women’s issues — from equal pay, healthy women’s annual doctor visits, mentoring, flex time, telework, and more — a top priority in all sectors of America’s economy and institutions. They also stressed that they want the federal government and the White House Office of Personnel Management to lead the way so that corporations and others follow best practices in hiring, pay equity, promotion, etc.
  • Jeanne Lambrew gave a comprehensive overview of the Affordable Care Act and how the administration is very focused on the 2014 launch date for full, national implementation, as well as the “EXCHANGE” program which starts in January 2013, where people will be able to start reviewing possible health plans, and find out whether they are eligible for tax credits. The ACA will have a great impact on people of color and the working poor. Lambrew spoke about how the White House has fully engaged all the agencies of the federal government to work as a team to ensure that by the time 2014 comes, they can hit the ground running with as few hiccups as possible.
  • Roberto Rodriguez gave us a briefing on education policy for the next four years. He stressed that the administration is committed to lowering national drop-out rates for black and brown students (especially males). He discussed the “Home Visit” program, to help parents and families deal with some of their social challenges (poverty, health, etc.) that can challenge kids when they start school.  Head Start continues to be a mainstay program throughout all administrations and full funding of it is as high a priority as ever. On the state level, “Together for Tomorrow” is a program based in Orlando, Florida that has $4 billion available for faith-based partnerships and educational institutions to work together to help fight educational challenges for black and brown kids. Rodriguez also discussed a major educational initiative targeted at African-Americas that will be launched soon.
  • Lastly, we got a briefing from Jason Furman, who serves as Director to the National Economic council.  He briefed us on the “fiscal cliff” talks as of Friday, and said that revenue generation is the real issue, and it will be a part of deficit reduction. The threshold number for the administration is no higher taxes on couples making $250,000 or less, or singles making $200,000 or less. The rates will stay the same as they have been since the George W. Bush years.  Only those who make in excess of $250,000 will see their rates increase, to 39.6%.  This move alone will generate $1 trillion in tax revenue. Furman indicated he was cautiously optimistic that congress would reach a deal in time to stave off automatic budget cuts and tax hikes on January 1st.

All in all, it was a very thorough briefing on what the administration plans to do over the next four years to make strides in key areas involving women and people of color.  The White House also made clear that it continues to develop more innovative and tech savvy ways to engage the public and the media so that their agenda can get out to all Americans, in all corners of the nation.

Sophia Nelson is a writer and author. Her book, “Black Women Redefined” is now in paperback. Follow Sophia Nelson on Twitter at @IAmSophiaNelson.