Midway through President Obama’s term, many African Americans are wondering what the Obama legacy will means for them. Many are frustrated at what is perceived as President Obama’s failure to specifically address their needs and concerns. Some are saying that Obama has not done enough for blacks. In his State of the Union address, President Obama did not mention blacks, although he spoke about gays and immigrants. With 16.9% unemployment at times, now down to 15.7%, higher foreclosure rates than for whites, African Americans are feeling the brunt of the economy more than others. Seeing the president as one of them, many African Americans expect the president to do more for them. Others view that there is a balance to the president being able to overtly address their concerns mainstream and risk alienating other segments of society. So, is the President stuck between a rock and a hard place?
Many of the Obama administration’s accomplishments for blacks are primarily in the area of health care and education.
- Health Care- A disproportionate percentage blacks are without health care and suffer from debilitating diseases. The passage of health care reform, without specifically being solely for blacks, helps minorities to a large extent. Coverage for pre-existing conditions, lowering prescription costs, and allowing for young adults to remain on parent’s coverage until 26 are a win-win.
- Pell Grants – Pell grants allow many disadvantaged and low income youth to attend and finish college. Without them, many students would not be able to complete and obtain a college degree. Due to the downturn of the economy, a high percentage of black students are recipients of Pell Grants and need more affordable loans.
- HBCU- An unprecedented $1 billion for black colleges over the next 10 years, including $850 million for HBCU’s has been allocated. While not exclusively attended by blacks, the majority of these schools are majority black. In these economic times, this money will directly impact the education goals of many African American students.
- The extension of unemployment benefits with higher unemployment among blacks has a direct impact on African Americans.
While the Obama administration has made accomplishments, another trend is now emerging. As we enter the 2nd year of Obama’s term, the Administration is cutting into programs that would help some African Americans. With the proposed Obama budget, the administration plans to significantly reduce community action grants and community block funds. These funds help blacks and minorities with jobs and housing. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also now seem to be on the way out. The Obama Administration says it has plans to raise fees and require larger house down payments. Some argue this will make it harder for home buyers to secure the 30 year fixed mortgage, the main staple of the mortgage industry. Although, there is substantial financial trouble involving these institutions, these are the main routes for many blacks to obtain the dream of home ownership.
And even though, it was stated that everyone would feel the budget cuts, that was not the case with tax credits for the wealthy in December, 2010. In fact, the wealthy inheritance tax break was increased to an even more advantageous rate. More troubling is the president’s call for $2.5 billion cuts in Low Income Home Energy Assistance which directly helps poor people to heat their homes. Both Senators John Kerry (D. MA) and Scott Brown (R.MA) oppose these cuts due to the unusually cold winter. The President also wants to make it more expensive to attend graduate school by allowing interest to accrue while a graduate student is in school… a first. This comes on the heels of his State of the Union address that said an education should not break a student. Many students already come out of school with $100,000 in debt facing a bleak economy. Yet, with the new budget, the President said that he wanted to remain committed to the needs of low income students needing Pell grants. And there are few proposed changes to existing Pell grants.
As the President attempts to cut the programs that specifically help the disadvantaged, how will the Obama administration still help the least of those among us, who rely on heating assistance, housing and jobs programs? Will the dream of owning and keeping a home become a thing of the past? These are questions that must be asked of the President. If the President doesn’t have the back of the poor and economically disadvantaged, where will they turn for help? As long as President Obama fails to address and tackle many issues facing many blacks, he may be seen by many African Americans as not doing enough. But juxtaposed with needing to make cuts to bring our debt down and the President’s vision for America, is the President caught between a rock and a hard place?
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and political and legal commentator. She is frequently seen in the media addressing issues on race and gender. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.