Obama’s Last Budget Includes Many Latino Priorities, But Gridlock May Doom It

In Huffpost

 

The White House unveiled its budget proposal today but leaders in Congress want nothing to do with it. It’s a shame, because in the last federal budget proposal by this administration, the President has laid out a blueprint that’s consistent with many of the goals that Latino advocates have articulated to the White House and Congress in recent months and years.

First, it’s worth noting that this budget proposal follows the three main pillars of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s (NHLA) ongoing recommendations for building a fair economy. This budget proposal:

  1. Reduces the budget deficit — not through cuts on the backs of working families, but through new revenue, including 955 billion from those who have the greatest means to contribute more, and 170 billion in savings that comprehensive immigration reform would generate over a decade.
  2. Puts an end to sequestration, the arbitrary across-the-board cuts that threaten to hit every important domestic funding priority after next year.
  3. Increases investment in our economic future by investing more in our youth.

Second, while the President’s proposed increase in spending for domestic priorities is lower than we might wish for, at a very modest one percent, his administration targets this at boosting many of the educational and workforce investments that the NHLA coalition has consistently called for in recent years. This includes proposals to expand full-day Head Start, promote universal pre-school, increase access to quality child care, boost funding for STEM education in public schools, make two years of community college free for responsible students, expand apprenticeships, and invest in youth job training and summer jobs. Considering that one in four children in America are Hispanic, these proposals give young Latinos the tools they need to succeed in their careers and life would strengthen our nation’s economy as well as increase the standard of living for Latino families.

The President’s budget proposal also offers tax reforms that should garner bipartisan support, especially the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to more working individuals without children and noncustodial parents. Other spending priorities in the budget include the Latino priorities of expanding Medicaid, ongoing funding for the Affordable Care Act, enforcing worker protection laws, encouraging paid leave, supporting affordable housing, and increasing funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) of higher education.

It’s worth noting that even if funding increases were made to these excellent programs, the President would still have his work cut out in ensuring they effectively reach the Latino community. Key to achieving this is having a diverse and culturally competent federal workforce to implement government investments. With Hispanic representation in the federal workforce at a woeful 8.4 percent (well behind Hispanics’ 16.1 percent share of the civilian labor force), a robust executive order will be needed to fix this.

Third, the President attempts to make up for his omission of the Puerto Rican fiscal crisis from his State of the Union address by including support in his budget for the territory’s ability to restructure its debt — a right that state and local governments have on the mainland, but that is currently denied to Puerto Rico. The budget also provides some relief to the island’s economy by extending the Earned Income Tax Credit to Puerto Rican residents and proposing to lift the existing cap on Medicaid funding.

Lastly, back to Congress. We know that the White House and Congressional leadership have their differences (to put it lightly), especially when it comes to the federal budget, but in an unprecedented move, the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees announced last week that they won’t even invite the President’s budget director to present the budget proposal. Policy differences are no excuse to forgo dialogue, especially when important decisions about investing in our nation’s future are at stake. Regardless, today’s budget proposal establishes a strong marker for where spending negotiations should start, and our work as advocates will continue, in order to ensure that future budget proposals come at least as close as this one did to meeting the needs of the Latino community.

 

 

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