Guest Columns

White House stresses gains for Hispanics at local summit

Special to The Colorado Statesman

As the election year draws near, President Obama has been looking west. He recently visited Colorado twice in the period of a month to promote his reelection and push his policies, and during his last trip, unveiled his student loan program.

On Oct. 29, more than a dozen senior Administration officials returned to Colorado for the Hispanic Community Action Summit. Building on a series of gatherings held across the country, the Denver event was arranged to convey the potential impacts of the American Jobs Act on the area’s Hispanics, who constitute roughly one fifth of the city’s population. It was also part of an unstated effort to reach key constituencies needed to ensure a second term in the White House.

The Denver conclave followed similar meetings in New Mexico two days before, as well as regional meetings over the past couple months in various parts of the country. Similar summits will be held in 40 states in order to reach out to the Hispanic community.

Participants in Denver focused on such topics as healthcare, jobs, immigration and education with break-out groups hosted by White House officials and a “community bulletin board” on which attendees could pin their ideas.

Rosa Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the United States, welcomed participants who gathered at the Studio Loft at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. Rios, who has direct oversight over the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and Fort Knox, talked about accomplishments of the administration for small businesses, as well as payroll tax cuts contained in the proposed American Jobs Act.

Rios also lauded the Small Business Lending Fund and the State Small Business Credit Initiative.

The lending fund provides $4 billion in low interest loans to community banks and community development loan funds. The credit initiative steers $1.5 billion to state based initiatives, such as capital access programs and loan guarantees.

“Community banks are often the life-blood of a lot of small businesses in specific neighborhoods. These programs provide the opportunity for community banks to free up capital to encourage small business growth,” Rios stated.

Rios also described the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, a provision of the stimulus bill, as being vitally important to the Hispanic community. The fund awards technical and financial assistance to encourage economic development in low-income communities.

After her speech, White House deputies introduced themselves and acknowledged that the Hispanic community faces difficult times. High unemployment, health problems, a lack of medical coverage, educational inequality and a broken immigration system are some of their challenges.

“Of the 32 million Americans without health insurance, 9 million of them are Latino,” said Theresa Nino, director of the Office of Public Engagement for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Nino praised the Affordable Care Act for providing affordable health insurance to Hispanics.

Several officials made the case for the American Jobs Act, which they argued would help the Hispanic community, which is experiencing unemployment rates much higher than the national average.

The subject that received the most attention on the community bulletin board was education.

“Colorado has the second highest educational achievement gap for Hispanics and drop-out rates that are simply unacceptable,” declared Jose Rico, deputy director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. “But Coloradans are starting to see the results of the administration’s policies as we work to turn around failing schools and ensure that we have high quality teachers in all of our schools.”

Blanca Trejo, community organizer for the non-profit Metro Organizations for People, voiced her concerns about college opportunities for young Hispanics on the bulletin board. “We have to ensure that young people in our communities are able to get a college education and advance themselves. They need that hope.”

The lion’s share of attendees agreed that the immigration and naturalization systems currently in place are broken and in dire need of reform.

The event was also attended by a dozen or so elected officials, including state Reps. Rhonda Fields, D- Aurora, and Val Vigil, D-Thornton, and Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who formed a separate break-out group to voice their concerns to White House officials.

Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, was instrumental in bringing the event to Denver. She viewed the summit as the beginning of a dialogue between the White House and the Hispanic community. “We need to have these conversations,” she said. “We need to connect the policies affecting us with the communities they are meant to serve.”