(WASHINGTON) — Addressing one of the items laid out in his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama on Thursday named five economically challenged areas of the country that will receive a series of tax incentives and government grants as part of his efforts to combat poverty across the country.
“We’ve got to make sure this recovery, which is real, leaves nobody behind, and that’s going to be my focus throughout the year,” Obama said in an event in the East Room of the White House Thursday. “This is going to be a year of action.”
The “Promise Zones Initiative,” first unveiled in the president’s 2013 State of the Union, aims to help economically disadvantaged areas through a series of tax incentives, which must be approved by Congress, and government grants for businesses and local officials to use to boost their communities.
The first five economic “Promise Zones” will be San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. In all, the administration will designate 20 “Promise Zones” over the next three years.
The communities which applied for the program were required to craft a plan to show how businesses and local officials would team up to spur investment and create new job opportunities in their areas. The communities were required to have an average poverty rate of 20 percent and ranged from population sizes of 6,000 to 200,000.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan argued the initiative is different from others because it encourages a more “holistic approach” to addressing problems in struggling communities.
Historically, federal government “tended to address problems in isolation, one by one,” Donovan said in a conference call. “When it came to housing, new developments would be built but they were often surrounded by unsafe streets, poor schools, limited transportation options, and few jobs. This was a recipe for failure.”
In attendance at Thursday’s event were two unlikely allies for the president — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whose home state received one of the Promise Zone” designations.
“We’ve got, you know, Democratic and Republican elected officials across the country who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work,” Obama said. “This should be a challenge that unites us all.”
“Talk is cheap,” Obama added. “We’ve got to actually make sure that we do it.”
Paul, who has developed a plan of his own to help economically depressed areas, had supportive words for the president’s initiative, but said it doesn’t go far enough.
“I think the good news is the sentiment, and I think his motives are in the right place,” Paul said. “The only concern I have is that some of the thoughts as far as government grants aren’t new ideas. I’m not saying I’m opposed to what he’s doing. I’m just concerned that it’s not enough, and that it isn’t different from what we’re doing…to have the effect that we all want.”
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Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN
Shelbie Harris, Idaho State Journal