VIA: New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Obama promised civil rights leaders on Wednesday to push hard and work with Congress to address the high unemployment rate, particularly among the urban and rural poor.
But Mr. Obama and the three other black men who met with him for more than an hour in the Oval Office did not focus on programs for African-Americans or limit their talks to issues of concern primarily to blacks, participants said.
Instead, the group — which included Benjamin T. Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network — discussed how the economic crisis was affecting all manner of poor people.
“In these times, it didn’t make sense to talk about race-based initiatives,” Mr. Jealous said in an interview after the meeting. “It made more sense to target poor areas.” He added, “When you’re on the ground, the poor black community is the same as the poor white community.”
Some black scholars, editorial writers and others have criticized Mr. Obama for not specifically aiming programs at African-Americans hard hit by the recession. But as he did today, Mr. Obama has said that broader efforts to help the disadvantaged will also benefit blacks.
The meeting was the only item on an otherwise empty calendar at the White House on Wednesday, as Washington was hit by heavy snow and high winds. Dorothy Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, had planned to attend the session but was unable to make it.
Mr. Jealous and Mr. Sharpton said much of the conversation involved how to get Republican leaders to support Mr. Obama’s jobs proposals. Mr. Sharpton said that he had recently spoken with Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, about getting Republican Congressional leaders to meet with civil rights leaders to talk about passing jobs legislation.
Mr. Obama has proposed using $30 billion of repaid bailout loans to help community banks increase lending to small businesses, part of a broader effort to stimulate job creation as the unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, and around 15 percent for blacks.
But critics say the plan is misguided because community banks have enough capital already but are not lending readily because they have trouble finding worthy borrowers. Some Republicans have criticized the plan because, under current law, repaid bailout money is supposed to pay down the deficit.
Mr. Obama wants Congress to change the law. Administration officials argue that most if not all of the money will eventually be repaid, meaning the $30 billion would have relatively little impact on the deficit over time.
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