Looking on the ‘Bright Side’ of the Budget

With looming budget cuts impssible to avoid, this week Obama-administration officials offered their plans for using what they've already got to help get what America needs.

As a nod to both the last day of Black History Month and impending federal budget cuts (two areas with more in common, apparently, than one might think), on Monday the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) hosted a forum dedicated to investing in communities of color.

Dr. Elsie Scott, president of the CBCF, a nonprofit policy institute, explained the connection. 

“We’ve spent much of the month of February looking back on our past and how far we’ve come. Now we’re talking about where we’re going in the future,” she said at the top of the meeting, which mostly explored possible solutions to combat unemployment.

“Communities of color are faced with a lot of hardships. We’ve got a budget crisis, and we’re being cut out. But we can’t sit back and say, ‘Woe is us.’ Let’s talk about how we can invest the resources that we have — which are so much greater than our ancestors had — and how we are going to move forward.”

When the premise is, “At least it’s not as bad as slavery and Reconstruction,” you know it’s going to be a questionable sell. But under that principle, a roster of Obama-administration officials and other policy experts took an optimistic stance, presenting some of their plans for making the best use of what they’ve got.

On the employment front, Gerri Fiala, the Department of Labor’s deputy assistant secretary for employment and training, acknowledged the difficulty ahead.

“When you’re talking about big budget cuts, increased demand for training, and high numbers of unemployed and underemployed people who want the skills they need to advance, it’s a tremendous challenge,” she said, adding that she is hopeful about what’s possible.

Fiala touted several existing Labor Department programs connecting African-American adults to employment opportunities, such as the Wagner-Peyser program, which offers job-placement services. Between October 2009 and September 2010, more than 4.3 million people went through the program, and 19 percent were black.

As of September 2010, nearly 28,000 African Americans have received training through the department’s community-based job-training grants, and under the Workforce Investment Act, about 140,000 African Americans found jobs between October 2008 and September 2009.