Joint Statement from: Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children's Zone; Bruce Lesley, First Focus; Ann O'Leary, The Center for the Next Generation; Michael Petit, Every Child Matters; Irwin Redlener, Children's Health Fund; Billy Shore, Share Our Strength; and Mark Shriver, Save the Children
Tuesday night President Obama took a strong stand for America's children - laying out a broad agenda focused on "opening the door of opportunity to every child across this great Nation." From calling for an investment in the foundations of education with a commitment to universal preschool education, to recognizing that America's children will only thrive with strong communities and strong families, President Obama's State of the Union was a thoughtful call to action on behalf of the next generation of Americans.
The President laid out an aggressive agenda for children including:
- A commitment to a federal budget that allows for investments in our children: The President made clear that our federal budget represents our national priorities and that if we do not continue to address the rising cost of health care for an aging population by embracing modest reforms in Medicare, our investment in "our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations."
- A call for good jobs that provide parents an opportunity to earn an income so that they can support their children: The President declared that it is wrong that today a family working full-time and earning the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. The President called for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and called on Congress to tie increases in the minimum wage to the cost of living. The President also recognized that our economy is stronger when wives, mothers and daughters earn a living equal to their efforts, calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
- A plea for all of us to come together and once again commit to the American Dream for all children: The President stated, "American is not a place where chance of birth or circumstances should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them." The President will build these ladders by providing incentives to companies to hire Americans, including the millions of parents who have long been out of work. His agenda will put people back to work rebuilding homes in poor neighborhoods and, in partnership with 20 of the "hardest-hit towns in America," get them back on their feet. Children thrive in strong, economically stable communities and these efforts will have a real impact on America's kids.
- An agenda to build an education system so that our children have the skills and education to compete in the global economy: The most significant disrupter of poverty is a good education. Tuesday night, the President announced that he will work with "states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America"; develop a Partnership to Rebuild America to build "modern schools worthy of our children"; provide a new challenge "to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy"; and "ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid." This package of educational commitments and investments are critical to lifting children out of poverty and giving them and their children a shot at the American dream.
- A call for real immigration reform that works for children: The President also recognized that children need strong and stable families to thrive. Responding to the needs of millions of children living in uncertainty due to their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents, President Obama called on Congress to recognize that "the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform."
- A commitment to support stable families: The President made a commitment to support stable families, vowing to "remov[e] the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples and do more to encourage fatherhood."
- A national call to action to protect children from violence: Perhaps the most heart-wrenching and critical commitment the President made was to "protect our most precious resource--our children" from the senseless gun violence plaguing our Nation from Newtown, Connecticut to Chicago, Illinois. He called on Congress to take votes on tougher background checks, preventing the resale of guns to criminals, and getting "weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off of our streets." And, he also called on the House to pass the Violence Against Women Act to keep our wives, mothers, and daughters free from the fear of domestic violence. Together, these votes will mean a safer and more secure America for our children.
In the weeks ahead, we look forward to working with President Obama to advance this strong agenda for children and to keep the momentum going to make a real difference in the lives of America's children.