State of the Union: The President's Top 5

— By Timothy R. Warfield, Executive Director, NASCSP —

There was applause, laughter, and even some tears in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech. The talking heads are divided over whether the most impactful moment of the night was the teary reactions of the families of the gun violence victims or the President’s quip about the abundance of ribbon cuttings. For me there were five key moments in the speech where I heard proposals that resonated deeply with the efforts of Community Action and Weatherization.

1) Energy Efficiency

Cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We’ll work with the states to do it.

Weatherization is a strategy to do just that. This network has the tools, resources, and expertise needed by the Administration to pull this off. We know the technology and best practices to make homes more energy efficient and we can get this done cost-effectively.

2) Universal Preschool

Make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.

Community Action Agencies know the value of starting early to ensure a child’s success in life. We already invest in early childhood programs. 53% of CAAs operate Head Start programs. CAAs leverage nearly $4 billion in childcare funds annually. The Community Action Network is already positioned to launch the Administration’s national Preschool initiative.

3) Raise Minimum Wage

In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty – […] raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. This [will] raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between […] scraping by or finally getting ahead.

This was certainly one of the more controversial proposals of the speech. Small business advocates and some economists believe that a minimum wage hike will simply reduce the number of available jobs. But isn’t it high time for a national dialogue on poverty and work in America? Let’s discuss what “a wage you can live on” really means and change the public discourse around why people struggle to get by in America.

4) Ladders of Opportunity

There are communities in this country where, no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead – […] inescapable pockets of poverty […]

America is not a place where the chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them. Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening […]

We’re well-acquainted with “inescapable pockets of poverty.” We know how to create those ladders of opportunity. We can apply our best practices and proven successful strategies to help workers prepare for these new jobs, keep these jobs, and move up the ladder.

5) Infrastructure Jobs

A “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs […]

Here is another opportunity for Community Action to showcase its most innovative projects and best practices that bring together community resources to change lives. Weatherization Plus Health projects link the Administration’s new healthcare program into these infrastructure projects to ensure that we create healthy communities even as we shore up our infrastructure.

It was refreshing that poverty was not only discussed openly, but was treated as a solvable problem rather than as a life sentence. Let’s seize this moment to leverage our years of experience and innovative strategies to offer the leadership our country needs.