Writer Nadira A. Hira was assigned to interview President George W. Bush at the National Urban League Conference in Detroit this past summer for the November issue of Essence Magazine.
My Administration has vigorously enforced civil rights laws. I am the first President to ban racial profiling in Federal law enforcement. And to serve the cause of justice on the Federal bench, I have nominated outstanding men and women to the courts, highly qualified people of all races and backgrounds.
Leaders of the African American community have worked very closely with my Administration on the Faith-Based and Community initiative so that faith-based groups, which help people most in need, can compete on a level playing field with other organizations. The government can hand out money, but it cannot put hope in a person’s heart, that is why across the Nation, the faith-based community is putting Federal dollars to good use in substance abuse treatment programs, mentoring programs for children of prisoners, and programs that provide pregnant women access to vital services, like parenting skills and information on health and nutrition. In many of our urban communities, the only social service programs available operate out of the basement of a church, and they should receive funding if their programs have proven to be effective.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one that touches all communities, both in America and throughout the world. My 2005 budget commits over $17 billion to AIDS treatment and prevention in America, a 27 percent increase over 2001. And I have requested a $35 million increase in the Minority AIDS Initiative. Through the Ryan White program, we are providing $20 million to deliver lifesaving drugs to infected people, over 50 percent of whom are from minority communities.
My Administration has also begun the largest initiative ever to combat global HIV/AIDS. America is a compassionate Nation that is taking the lead on dealing with the pandemic that ravages the continent of Africa. My Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief provides $15 billion over five years for prevention, treatment, and care in the 15 countries most heavily impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
And we are bringing greater prosperity to the African continent. I signed the African Growth and Opportunity Acceleration Act of 2004. It recognizes that the best way to help lift people out of poverty is through trade and the free flow of commerce. And it is working on the continent of Africa and creating new opportunities for American exports.
Hira: How do you respond to critics who say that you and your party are out of touch with the African American community?
President Bush: I have spent the last several years committed to policies that affect all communities in America. Building economic prosperity, winning the war on terror, protecting the homeland, strengthening our public schools, creating jobs for Americans, fighting crime, making health care more affordable, fighting HIV/AIDS, and promoting strong values for Americas families – these are all issues that are important to Americans, those in the African-American community and those who are not.
When I travel around the Nation, I meet with people of every age, race, ethnicity, and background, and I listen to their needs and concerns. I have worked closely with members of the African American community in pursuing key Administration policies, from education to retirement security.
And I have created an Administration of talented men and women from diverse communities and backgrounds. Many of my top advisors and Cabinet level officials are minorities and women. I have the most diverse cabinet in history. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Education Rod Paige, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson are all African Americans who I trust and rely upon to make important policy decisions that affect all Americans. I have also nominated minority and women judges for positions on the federal bench and will continue to appoint the most capable people of all backgrounds to top positions within my Administration.
Hira: The average Essence reader is a 35-year-old college-educated African American woman, has an income of about $30,000 a year, and is a single parent. She’s also optimistic, driven to achieve, confident and independent—and she expects to become financially well-off or comfortable. How do your policies address her concerns about adequate child care, health care and education for her family; her dreams of home-ownership; her need for safety in her neighborhood; and her plans for retirement?
President Bush: I believe the role of government is to provide people with the opportunity and tools they need to be successful.
If you are a single mom or a working parent, balancing the needs of your family and the responsibilities of work can be challenging. That is why I have asked Congress to enact flex-time and comp-time to allow parents to choose more flexible schedules and spend more time with their children.
We need to make sure that working families and single-working moms can get high-quality, affordable health care when they need it – regardless of income. I signed into law new Health Savings Accounts to allow people to save tax free to meet health care expenses, and I have asked Congress to enact Association Health Plans to give American working families and small businesses more choices in health care. Small businesses should be able to band together and negotiate on behalf of their workers just like largecorporations and unions do. And the expansion of community health centers now makes it possible for 13 million people to see doctors or nurses regardless of their ability to pay. I have also proposed new tax credits to help Americans buy a health plan that meets their needs. All of my efforts are designed to put patients at the center of their health care decisions and to prevent important medical decisions from being turned over to the government.
The No Child Left Behind law is improving schools and giving moms and dads more choices about their children’s education. My early childhood initiative seeks to improve early childhood education, to make sure that every child enters school ready to learn. Because in many families both parents work outside of the home, nearly 62 percent of children age five or younger are receiving care from individuals other than their parents. The Federal government is now providing more than $15 billion a year to help families – particularly low-income families meet their early child care and education needs.
In addition, I have increased funding to a record $12.9 billion in 2005 for Pell Grants to help more than 5.3 million low-income students afford college, an increase of one million students since 2001. I have also proposed Enhanced Pell Grants of $1,000 in additional Pell Grant funding for low-income students who take rigorous courses in high school to prepare them to succeed in college and the workforce. Federal student aid will allow more than 10.3 million students to afford college this year through $73 billion in financial aid assistance, an increase of 55 percent since 2001.
The economy is also moving in the right direction. More Americans than ever before own their own homes including more minority families than ever. Our streets and neighborhoods are safer because we are vigorously prosecuting crime and providing mentoring programs to help kids stay away from drugs. I signed into law the PROTECT Act, which gives law enforcement new tools to prevent, investigate, and prosecute violent crimes against children, including child pornography. To ensure that every American can retire and feel secure about their financial futures, I have proposed the creation of voluntary personal savings accounts that will allow workers and individuals to save for the future, and build retirement security and assets of their own. And by cutting taxes for all Americans, more families, individuals, and working moms are keeping more money in their paychecks. That is more money to use for things like child care, buying groceries, or investing in a college education. I will work with Congress to make this tax relief permanent – if it doesn’t, eight million single women with children will see their taxes increase.
I also want working mothers to have more options for saving so they have flexibility to provide for their children’s care and education. Lifetime savings accounts will help Americans save in one tax-favored account for any purpose, including their children’s education, a new home, healthcare needs, or to start their own business. I have also expanded education savings accounts by increasing the annual contributions limit from $500 to $2,000 – and now parents can use the money in those accounts to pay for anything from kindergarten through college.
More flexibility to balance work and family schedules, better access to affordable health care, stronger schools, safer streets, and more opportunities to save – these are my goals for America’s women and America’s families.
Writer Nadira A. Hira was assigned to interview President George W. Bush at the National Urban League Conference in Detroit this past summer for the November issue of Essence Magazine. She was unable to interview him in time for publication of the November issue, but President Bush later responded by e-mail. His entire interview is below.
Nadira Hira: Why did you decline the NAACP’s invitation to speak? And why did you choose to speak to the National Urban League?
President George W. Bush: I have great respect for the NAACP and its long and proud history of championing civil rights. And I have worked throughout my Administration to reach out to the African American community, including by addressing the National Urban League and the NAACP in 2003. One of the first things I did after taking office was work to pass historic and sweeping education reforms to close the achievement gap in education and challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations. Mine is the First Administration to ban racial profiling in Federal law enforcement. And my Justice Department is vigorously enforcing our civil rights laws.
Promoting a constructive dialogue that brings Americans together around shared priorities is vital to creating a successful and diverse Nation. Differing views are important to our national discourse, and I welcome all views as we work together on our common goals and our shared priorities.
I have a proven record of reaching out to all Americans and working to improve the quality of life for everyone, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or income. I will continue to champion civil rights, and I remain committed to reaching out to NAACP members.
Hira: Beyond the obvious necessity of courting all voters, does your team see some particular value in targeting the urban community?
President Bush: Americans who reside in urban communities want to ensure that our Nation is safe from terrorism and that our economy is strong, with plenty of good jobs to help Americans build prosperity and achieve their dreams. We have helped secure their homes and improve their lives, and that is what we will continue to do in the next four years if given the opportunity.
Americans have made great progress during the last four years. We have overcome terrorist attacks, corporate scandals, and an inherited recession. Today our economy is enjoying robust growth. We have created almost 1.5 million new jobs since last August, and the unemployment rate (5.5%) is lower than the average rates during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The unemployment rate for African Americans is lower today than it was last year. More moms and dads are working, more families are financially secure, because we passed two of the largest tax cuts in history. More African-American families own their own homes than ever before, but there is still more we can do. Job opportunity is not available in every neighborhood and every corner of the country, and I will not rest until every American who wants to work can find a job. Urban communities have a huge stake in seeing faith-based organizations being treated fairly in the Federal grants process, and I am making sure that organizations that are effectively working for their communities can get the funding they need.
Small businesses create about 70 percent of new jobs in America, so it’s important to have policies in place that help them thrive and expand. My tax relief package has quadrupled business expensing to $100,000 so that small businesses can invest in things like computers and machinery. And because 90 percent of small businesses pay taxes at individual rates, the income tax cuts we passed have lowered tax bills for more than 25 million small business owners and entrepreneurs.
More than 15 percent of our Nation’s small businesses are owned by women and minorities, including an estimated 1.2 million privately held firms that are majority-owned by women of color. Small business loans to African Americans are up 75 percent from last year. And we are working to increase that trend by giving entrepreneurs more ways to benefit their employees and strengthen the economy.
I have kept my promise to clean up more than 1,000 industrial waste sites, more than were restored in the previous seven years, to help revitalize urban communities. We have made these sites viable pieces of property for entrepreneurs – places to establish new businesses and to build new homes.
In the past three years, we have helped to make America’s air, land, and water cleaner. My new proposals – the “Clean Air Rules of 2004” – build on that progress by cutting air pollution from utilities and transportation sources in half over the next fifteen years, and help America’s cities advance toward to the goal of a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment.
And mothers and fathers can sleep better at night with the knowledge that our streets are safer, because we are actively prosecuting gun-related crimes. Since 2001, our actions have led to an increase of 68 percent in Federal gun prosecutions. And we have decreased violent crime by 21 percent. We have also worked to put our kids on the right path early on by placing a strong emphasis on programs that target youth crime and violence. Between 2001 and 2003, youth drug use is down by 11 percent. I instituted a national initiative to expand and coordinate the AMBER Alert network, which notifies the public about child abductions.
At home and abroad, we have taken measures to disrupt terrorist threats and defend our homeland. By protecting our ports, borders, and coastlines; investing in efforts to combat the threat of bioterrorism; limiting the financial capacity of terrorist organizations; and actively pursuing threats in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are making our Nation safer than it was three years ago.
Hira: How has your administration’s policies have served the African American community, generally and specifically? And how will you continue to do that if re-elected?
President Bush: I have worked to expand opportunity across the Nation, in every community. While there is still work to do, we have seen great successes, and I will continue to pursue a vision for America that builds on the progress we have made.
We have expanded economic opportunity by cutting tax rates for all American families. Because we doubled the child tax credit to $1,000, provided marriage penalty relief, cut taxes for small business owners, and created a new 10 percent tax bracket, more than 111 million Americans are saving money, including 43 million families with children. We want to make the tax relief permanent so that Americans will continue to keep more of their hard-earned money. If Congress fails to act, 70 million women would see their taxes increase by an average of $697; 37 million families with children would incur an average tax increase of $954; 8 million single women with children would see their taxes increase an average of $357; and nearly 2 million individuals and families who currently have no income tax liability would become subject to the income tax.
Through a comprehensive approach to health care, my Administration has made health insurance more accessible and affordable for more Americans. We passed Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) so that Americans can pay for routine medical expenses and save for future medical expenses in a tax-free account. Through the expansion of community health centers we are serving 3 million more patients than in 2001, and I have committed to a five-year plan to open and expand 1,200 new community health centers to serve an additional 6.1 million individuals. We have approved Medicaid and SCHIP changes that will extend eligibility to 2.6 million more Americans. I have also asked Congress to approve refundable tax credits worth up to $3,000 per family to help with the cost of health insurance coverage for workers and their families. We have proposed to allow small businesses to band together to purchase more affordable coverage for their employees, and to reduce frivolous lawsuits that drive up costs and drive good doctors out of medicine. These combined efforts are putting health care control back into the hands of patients and doctors, and giving individuals more control over their health care spending.
Progress for African Americans, and progress for all Americans, requires good schools. One of my first actions in office was to sign historic and sweeping education reforms. I believe that every child can learn and succeed, and that every child should receive a first rate education. The No Child Left Behind Law is helping to close the achievement gap for our children by refusing to shuffle children through a system that does not work. Reading is the cornerstone of a good education. For the first time ever, the government is setting high standards and holding our public schools accountable, ensuring that our sons and daughters are finishing elementary school able to read. We are seeing results. A recent study of 61 urban school districts found the percentage of urban 4th grade scoring at or above proficiency in reading increased almost five percentage points last year. And because we are measuring results, we are catching these problems early so that all children have the opportunity to achieve.
The Federal government has a responsibility to help fund education, and I have increased total funding for elementary and secondary education by $12.2 billion (49%) to a record $36.9 billion in 2005. Title I funding for low-income schools has increased $4.6 billion (52%) to $13.3 billion in 2005. At the same time, we are asking schools to show us that more funds are producing better education. The law demands accountability from public schools by empowering parents with more information and more choices for their child’s education. If a student is trapped in a school that is not improving and will not change, parents can transfer their child to a better performing public school or select a tutor paid for with Federal funding. And my 2005 budget includes more than $50 million in school choice initiatives including $14 million for a pilot program in the District of Columbia. Low-income parents can receive a $7,500 scholarship to help pay for tuition at any school of the parents’ choice, secular or religious. In addition, we are also investing in early childhood programs and pre-K programs like Head Start so that our children are better prepared to enter elementary school.
I strongly support the work and mission of America’s minority-serving institutions as they seek to empower students with the skills they need to succeed and compete for the high-demand jobs of the 21st Century. My Administration has increased funding for minority-serving institutions by 30 percent over four years, with funding increasing for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Historically Black Graduate Institutions, and Hispanic-serving Institutions from $298.5 million in FY 2001 to a requested $395 million in my FY 2005 budget.
Both the national homeownership and minority homeownership rates are at an all-time high, and we are aggressively acting to close the ownership gap. The American Dream Downpayment initiative will help approximately 40,000 families every year take the first step to owning a home. My Zero Downpayment Initiative would help 150,000 families each year by making mortgages available with no downpayment, and the Affordable Housing Tax Credit would provide $2.5 billion over five years to increase the supply of affordable homes. More than 1.6 million minorities have become homeowners since I announced these initiatives. My goal is to help 3.4 million more.