Writing in today’s Washington Post, columnist David Broder says the Democratic Presidential race had developed a “different and welcome dynamic-a sharp competition among the leading candidates to become champions of the urban America.”
(Urban America's Moment http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/20/AR2007072002047_pf.html) It is welcome news that the Democrats are placing a renewed focus on urban issues and the deafening silence from Republicans on urban policy is disappointing.
Jack Kemp seems to be the last Republican who had an Urban policy. To give Bush credit, however, his American Dream Homeownership Initiative (ADDI) has increased homeownership among all Americans including the urban poor. And, his Faith Based initiative has leveraged federal funding to help the poor by allowing religious based organizations to access federal dollars. Both of these programs have had positive results. Otherwise, however, the Bush administration and Republicans in general have been silent on the issues of black poverty and urban problems.
Unfortunately the Democratic “champions of urban America” are offering all the wrong solutions. Republican neglect of the issue may be preferable to the Democratic “solutions”. Their solutions center around raising the minimum wage, expanding the earned-income tax credit, new subsidies for housing, easier access to college and job training, and universal health-care. I would like to see the Republicans join the debate so the full range of solutions are presented rather than the issue be restricted to a Welfare-state expansion bidding war.
These are the elements I would like to see in a Republican Urban policy.
1. Keep doing right the things that have worked:
· Homeownership expansion: The ADDI program has worked. The massive mortgage defaults we are seeing in housing is not among those new homeowners who received the ADDI down payment assistance, instead it is occurring among those with sub-prime loans. To qualify for the ADDI program, participants had to qualify for a good mortgage, so the program actually kept people from turning to sub-prime lenders. Expansion of homeownership builds individual wealth and strengthens families and communities. We should seek new ways to increase homeownership among the poor.
· Faith based initiative: It is a wise use of federal fund to fund those who have a passion for helping the poor.
2. Expand Welfare Reform-Stop the retreat. In the early 90’s Presidential candidate Bill Clinton vowed to "end welfare as we know it". Pushed along by the Republican Contract with America, which called for toughening the criteria for receiving welfare, the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton approved the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. Critics made dire predictions about the consequences of welfare reform. But, those dire predictions did no prove correct and Welfare Reform was a tremendous success. The New Republic concluded, "A broad consensus now holds that welfare reform was certainly not a disaster--and that it may, in fact, have worked much as its designers had hoped." Overall welfare rolls were cut by over 50% and in some states they were cut almost 90%! Former welfare recipient found work. Since then however, we have retreated on Welfare Reform. A Republican position should be a proposal for a Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act II which would revitalize the program and continue the progress. In the short-term, Welfare Reform is more expensive than subsidizing poverty, but it is worth the investment.
3. Expand and continue the HOPE VI program. Launched in 1992, the HOPE VI program was a drastic change in public housing policy and one of the most ambitious urban redevelopment efforts in the nation's history. It replaced distressed public housing projects occupied exclusively by poor families, with redesigned mixed-income housing and provided housing vouchers to enable some of the original residents to rent apartments in the private market. The program was mismanaged in some communities, but were it worked, it worked well. One of the results was a net decrease in the amount of public housing and a destruction of federally created ghettos of poor people. It is bad social policy to put all poor people in big developments were there are no other examples of what life can be. Public housing creates a culture of poverty. HOPE VI corrects that and should be expanded. (http://www.urban.org/publications/411002.html http://www.brookings.edu/urban/20040517_metroview.htm)
4. Support marriage and stigmatize single motherhood. This would have to be a multifaceted program and would have to be approached with delicacy and compassion, but strengthening the black family and marriage should be public policy. The 2000 U.S. Census shows only 44.9% of black householders live with a spouse, compared to 80.6% of whites. Single motherhood must be addressed as a leading cause of black poverty.
5. Continue support for No Child Left Behind. The program may need to be renamed and redesigned, but the goal should be the same. Easier access to college and job training are going to help very little in a community where most black boys drop out of school and those who graduate may not be able to read but have a worthless high school diploma. Accountability, Charter schools, incentive pay for teachers who teach in the worse schools, single-gender schools, and other innovations needs to be part of the solution. The educational establishment is an obstacle to school reform. Those who owe their election to the education establishment special interest group are not going to advocate meaningful reform in this critical area.
5. Think outside the box. Advocate bold new solutions. One bold solution, proposed by Sociologist Charles Murray, would provide a grant of up to $10,000 per year for life for everyone over the age of 21. Admittedly, initially this would be an expensive program, but by replacing other forms of public assistance and with a modification of tax policy, it probably is not more expensive than current social policy spending and it has the promise of changing private behavior and values. Single men who father a child would be subject to having their grant taken to pay child support. (http://bostonreview.net/BR31.5/conley.html). I understand a serious candidate may not wish to advocate something as radical and as specific as the Murray plan, but should offer a promise of a bold new initiatives