“Promise Zones.” This is a new initiative to attack poverty from President Barack Obama aimed at boosting depressed areas. According to the White House, the first five of 20 distressed areas located in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, that will get tax breaks and federal aid, reports NBC News.
Obama made the announcement as Washington marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the War on Poverty.
According to Obama, there are communities across America “where for too many young people, it feels like their future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town; too many communities where no matter how hard you work, your destiny feels like it has already been determined before you took that first step.” The effort is part a renewed emphasis from the White House in the past few weeks on poverty and economic opportunity, a theme he’ll touch on in his State of the Union speech.
And the efforts won’t only focus on urban areas, but will reach out to suburban and rural places as well that have fallen into economic distress as well.
The selected designations will receive preferential consideration for 25 federal grant programs and the federal government will invest direct technical support as the communities try to revitalize failing neighborhoods, reports USA Today. Obama is also urging Congress to set up tax breaks for firms that create businesses or hire workers in the promise zone communities.
“We believe the tax credits are a critical part in accelerating job creation in these communities. We can improve the housing, we can make sure the educational opportunities are there. But if there isn’t a job available at the end of that path, it’s going to be a heck of a lot harder for the kids (in these communities) to get ahead,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
The initiative is being backed by heavyweights from both sides of the aisle. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a potential 2016 presidential contender, is supporting the effort. Obama’s Promise Zones proposal is similar to Paul’s Economic Freedom Zones Act which Paul introduced in the Senate last month.
“I am supportive of the president’s ideas… What he said was uplifting and encouraging,” said Paul but added, “We need to do something more dramatic” than Obama’s proposed incentives for economically distressed areas.
This latest White House move is a return to a proposal Obama first made nearly a year ago in his 2013 State of the Union address. At that time he said his administration would “partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.” He added his administration would “work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, and education, and housing” and “give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.”