There’s a line that says, “Don’t tell me what your priorities are. Show me how you spend your money and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.” Earlier this week, President Barack Obama released his 2016 budget. The $4.1 billion budget is aimed at providing support for families – specifically, middle class families. Whether you fit into the middle class or are striving to get there, the budget outlines specific priorities that will benefit the African American community as well.
When the President first took office, the nation was hemorrhaging jobs. In 2014, the economy added more jobs than any other time since the 90s. But even at the best of times, unemployment in the African American community is nearly double that of the national average.
One of the ways that people are able to access quality jobs is by having access to a quality education. By the year 2020, it is estimated that nearly two-thirds of job openings will require some post-secondary education and training. The 2016 budget provides funds for expanded access to educational opportunities, including $200 million for the First in the World fund, which provides institutions of higher education funds to test new initiatives and scale up programs that improve college completion. Of those funds, 30% is set aside for minority serving institutions, including HBCUs.
Additionally, community colleges are attended by African American students more than any other type of institution of higher learning. The President’s budget makes community college free for some students, which would mean a huge difference for many students who would receive up to two years of college education or an associate’s degree for free.
Pell grants are also a common tool for students to pay for college. Pell grants have been adjusted annually for inflation, but that will end in 2017 if Congress fails to act. That could mean that families who are accessing the funds to help pay for college could be left in need. The budget provides the necessary funds to prevent that from happening.
The key to accessing college is having the right educational start, specifically, early childhood education. Within the President’s budget are allocations that will expand high quality early childhood education, specifically by providing more than 1.1 million more children under age four with access to high-quality care by the year 2025.
As many parents know, the cost of childcare can at times rival the amount spent on housing. The 2016 budget cuts taxes for families paying for childcare with a tax credit of up to $3,000 per child. The budget also expands Head Start programs and provides funding for universal preschool with an increase of $500 million over the 2015 level for a total of $750 million for preschool grants.
Jobs and Justice
For people already in the workforce or for those who have been displaced, training and development can help people unlock higher paying jobs. As part of the commitment to training, the budget provides $1.2 billion to support in-person employment services for unemployed workers. For jobs requiring more specialized skill, the budget will unlock apprenticeship opportunities with a $2 billion training fund for employers to provide on-the-job training. In addition to apprenticeships, the budget will also repurpose funds from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to a jobs initiative, as well as creating job training incentives for people living in public housing.
The President’s budget lays out even more priorities, like hunger prevention through allocations to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); a special electronic benefit transfer (EBT) pilot program; providing affordable rental housing for more families; and focusing on a critical issue that we’ve seen in our communities and on the news far too much lately: criminal justice reform.
The efforts in criminal justice and public safety include the increased use of body cameras, making communities safer through increased attention to gun violence and reducing crime and recidivism. These things, and providing access to quality health care, supporting minority businesses and providing security for American workers and retirees are all priorities – not just for the president, but for most Americans and specifically those in the black community.
In order to achieve these things and unlock the benefits for our communities, we have to be willing to let members of Congress know that we value these priorities and that the benefits for our community are important.
We know that there are people who may not agree with this budget, but if we don’t make our voices heard, they will believe these proposed budget allocations don’t matter to anyone and they will be that much more empowered to not only eliminate these benefits, but make additional cuts to some of the vital programs that help families and individuals in the black community.
We have the numbers to make an impact with Congress. It’s time to let them know what our priorities are.
Janaye Ingram is the Acting National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, Ingram focuses on issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, among others.