Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Let’s make this a year of action

I am a cancer survivor, a member of an ethnic minority, a recent college graduate, and a first generation American. My parents are small business owners, victims of gun violence, and have benefited from student loans and unemployment benefits.

Mom came to America when she was 18. She worked a full-time job at a nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour) while enrolling full-time at community college. To help pay for her education, she took student loans. After graduating, she got married to my dad and found work for a meager salary of $20,000 a year. She also needed to take advantage of certain tax breaks aimed at working families, such as the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. After 7 years of working hard, however, her company laid her off because of downsizing. She was laid off through no fault of her own, and needed unemployment benefits while searching for other work. She later joined my father in a business he created. 

But my parents would never consider themselves “dependent on government”. In fact, we believe government is dependent on us. And when we work hard and are responsible, we see nothing “socialist” or “un-American” by asking our government for assistance. It’s not called a hand-out, but more of an investment.

And it’s these types of investments that the President spoke about in his State of the Union address last night.

“For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate…but when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people." 

Last night’s State of the Union Address was a great testament to the leadership of President Obama. Not only did he highlight the many successes of his administration, but he also chose to rise above the bitter partisanship that has divided our Congress and, instead, address how we can continue moving forward.

First and foremost, it is necessary to understand the significant improvements in the state of our union since the President took office.

Five years ago, our economy was shedding nearly 800,000 jobs per month. Today, our economy has added more than 8 million new jobs and unemployment has fallen to less than 7% after peaking at 10.2% in 2010.

Five years ago, the U.S. auto-industry was going bankrupt. Today, U.S. auto-makers have not only repaid their debt, but are even doubling their fuel-efficiency standards, thus significantly reducing our dependence on foreign oil and saving the average vehicle around $8,000 a year.
Five years ago, our housing market crashed. Today, the housing market has rebounded and home foreclosure rates are at an all-time low. One major reason for this is that the President has made it significantly easier for people to refinance their homes. Prior to the President’s HARP program, many responsible homeowners were stuck at high refinancing rates because home values in their neighborhood plummeted after the financial crisis. By preventing banks from denying lower refinancing rates to these individuals, the average homeowner now saves an average of $3,000 a year in mortgage payments. As the President puts it, "When folks are spending less on mortgage payments, they’re spending more at local businesses. And when those businesses have more customers, they start hiring more workers."

And finally, five years ago, our healthcare system was broken. What’s worse, according to the American Journal of Medicine, medical debt due to lack or loss of health insurance accounted for more than 60% of all bankruptcies.

Today, however, healthcare costs have grown at the slowest rate in our history. For the first time ever, 3 million young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance until 26. For the first time ever, 6 million Americans now have coverage that couldn’t before. For the first time ever, 129 million Americans can’t be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. For the first time ever, private insurers must spend at least 80% of your premiums on actual healthcare (last year, 9 million Americans received a rebate from their insurance companies).

But with all these successes, if Congress continues to stand in the way of progress; if they continue to ignore the President’s call for a new jobs program, for new gun control measures, or for immigration reform; if they simply continue voting to repeal Obamacare instead of offering concrete alternatives; then I see nothing wrong with the President taking matters into his own hands.

Let’s move FORWARD and make this year “a year of action”.