Friday, February 20, 2009

National Office of Urban Affairs

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The U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting held this week in Washington D.C. was highlighted by a meeting with the President and Vice President of the United States on Friday, February 20 inside the White House East Room.

President Obama announced that he signed February 19, an executive order establishing the White House Office of Urban Affairs, where former New York City Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion will head up the agency. The office was created to, ”provide leadership for and coordinate the development of the policy agenda for urban America across executive departments and agencies;
(b) to coordinate all aspects of urban policy;
(c) to work with executive departments and agencies to ensure that appropriate consideration is given by such departments and agencies to the potential impact of their actions on urban areas;
(d) to work with executive departments and agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget, to ensure that Federal Government dollars targeted to urban areas are effectively spent on the highest-impact programs; and
(e) to engage in outreach and work closely with State and local officials, with nonprofit organizations, and with the private sector, both in seeking input regarding the development of a comprehensive urban policy and in ensuring that the implementation of Federal programs advances the objectives of that policy.”

In short, the office will coordinate all federal urban programs. The President said he is getting letters from constituents across the country about the problems they are facing. He acknowledged that mayors cannot deficit spend and that is why the recovery plan will create 3.5 million jobs and aid state and local governments to stem municipal cutbacks. He reiterated that 18 million will get health insurance and seven million taxpayers will receive financial help to get insurance after job loss.

“What makes this recovery plan so important we are putting America to work in what needs done in critical areas…it lays a new foundation,” the President said.

He said 400,000 people will be put to work across the country in infrastructure improvement based jobs. Infrastructure improvements include roads and highways, bridges, high speed rail, early childhood education, modernization of medical records and laying broadband lines

“We’ve done more in 30 days to advance health care reform than has occurred in a decade,” he said. He also said, what is required in returned is unprecedented accountability and responsibility to the taxpayer.

“They expect to see their money spent in its intended purposes without waste or fraud,” President Obama said.
He said this means he will hold both federal and local municipalities responsible for its use.
“We will use the new tools to watch the taxpayers money with more rigor and transparency than ever. If a federal agency proposes something that will waste money I will put them on notice,” President Obama said.

He said the same goes for local municipalities.
“I will call them out on it.” No compromise or shortcuts, he said.
He said the stimulus plan does not mark the end but the beginning of what he plans to do to attack urban challenges.
The President said he thinks about his start into politics when speaking with mayors--community outreach. He said citizens frequently look to local municipalities in times of financial trouble.

Reporters speaking with the mayors during an impromptu news conference on the white house driveway, after the meeting, asked about this accountability.
The mayors collectively said they welcome having their feet being held to the fire because it is what they have been going through everyday anyway. New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagen, said the money the cities will receive will go through the states to be disbursed. He said it took about three years to get hurricane victim monies. He said the legislature of each state can vote whether to take the money or not.

Questions then centered around making sure that the cities could receive the economic stimulus if the money was voted approved by each state and how they would like to see it spent.
After hearing from Democratic mayors, reporters on hand called to hear from Republican mayors.

A Republican mayor from Minnesota said, “one of the things we are now recognizing are the tools being put on the table to put our people back to work. The reinvestment act makes sure people are back to work and infrastructure is repaired and amenities offered, enriching the lives of each city’s citizens.
Another Republican South Carolina mayor said he was against the stimulus package at first but now that the recovery bill is law, he thinks, “we need to put as much of the money in long term projects as possible.”
It was apparent that the mayors who attended the meeting were on board with the President's plans.

Vice-President Joe Biden reminded all in attendance about the web site that could help shed light on how the recovery money is spent.

“Only after one month, laws have been signed to strengthen the American people. The results are clear and ready for the people to see it involves patient outreach," Vice President Joe Biden said, during an introduction of President Barack Obama.
“There is so much more to do,” he said.

Biden spoke of how for years America’s cities have been neglected and the concerns of its mayors unheard.
“We know how important cities are. Seven out of ten jobs are in (our nation’s) cities.” They haven’t been paid much attention to thus far.

He said the recovery package signed into law will provide “unprecedented investment in American cities."
“We have to make this work for our people,“ Biden said.
He acknowledged that taxpayers are trusting the government to spend the money in a way that it was intended. He said taxpayers can go to Recovery.gov to see how the money is being spent and make their concerns known.

He asked the mayors to highlight projects that need private investment and growth.
“The world is watching to see how well this will work.” Biden said.


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