Yesterday President Obama announced the establishment of five “Promise Zones” in areas across the US that have a high poverty rate. The President said the cities involved (or in one case, a Native American nation) will decide what they want to do to improve these areas, and the federal government will provide financial assistance. Fifteen more Promise Zones will be designated in the next three years.
I do not object to helping people in poverty; I support four charities that help the disadvantaged and suffering in the US and around the world. (And poverty in most of the world makes US poverty look like prosperity and affluence.) But I do object to this presidential initiative for several reasons:
* This is largely for show, to enhance Mr. Obama’s “legacy”. There are more important things to do. Instead of putting another band-aid on the wounds of poverty, the President should work more on the economy. That should provide more jobs at all income levels and rising interest rates would allow more people to grow their savings to fund a better life. (Another important goal for Mr. Obama might be to work harder – and within the framework of the law – to improve the quality of service under Obamacare.)
* Mr. Obama has not provided any information on where the federal government will get the funding. I am not in favor of increasing either taxes or the federal debt.
* Right now, the President says the cities will get to make choices, but every federal program that exists has requirements and stipulations to obtain federal funding. Will the feds end up dictating how the money is spent?
* Even if cities retain control of the process, local politics will likely control which projects are selected. Certain politicians will want projects that make them look better than a potential election opponent. Teachers unions will want more teachers hired with the funds, while the construction industry might want more schools built, while parents may just hope their children can have sufficient books and supplies to learn in a safe environment. Who will actually benefit the most from these Promise Zones?
* It seems very un-American to pick only a few areas to receive extra federal funding. Cities with large numbers of their residents living in poverty, that are not selected, should go to court because they were discriminated against. (Why wasn’t Detroit chosen in this first round?)
The President needs to delve more deeply to the details of new initiatives to ensure he is not just putting a pretty veneer over an ugly problem.