2015 State of the Union Analysis

LSA Analysis of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address

Last Updated February 6, 2015

On January 20, President Obama delivered his penultimate State of the Union address, outlining policy proposals and programmatic initiatives with the potential to impact individuals, families, and communities across the country. 

Traditionally, Presidents use the State of the Union (SOTU) as an opportunity to launch their policy agenda for the coming year.  These goals are then reflected and expanded upon in the President's annual budget request to Congress, which is scheduled for release each February. 

To provide some context for the Administration's fiscal and policy priorities in 2015, as well as the fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request unveiled earlier this week, LSA has prepared a summary of the SOTU, with an emphasis on the provisions that intersect with our members, their priorities, and those they serve.

Below, please find our analysis, which focuses on the speech language and underlying Administration policies in the following areas: Affordable Child Care, Paid Leave, Wages, Affordable Housing, Community College, Precision Medicine, and Criminal Justice.

The archived speech is available here, and the full text as prepared is available here.

AFFORDABLE CHILD CARE

In today's economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It's not a nice-to-have -- it's a must-have…And that's why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America — by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

President Obama is proposing to expand the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), child care subsidy for low- and moderate-income families authorized under the Child Care Block Development Grant (CCDBG) Act. The CCDF helps low- and moderate-income families with the cost of child care and increases the availability and quality of that care. States contribute matching resources for a portion of the CCDF funding they receive. But currently, federal and state funding for child care assistance falls well short of the need, and only a small share of young children receive federally-funded child care subsidies.

Specifically, he is proposing to boost funding for the CCDF by $80 billion over 10 years, with the goal of boosting eventual annual enrollment from 1.6 million to 2.6 million. According to Administration officials, reaching that goal would mean child care was available to all families with a household income of less than 200 percent of the poverty line, or roughly $40,000 a year for a family of three.

President Obama's child care plan also includes changes to the existing Child Care and Dependent Tax Credit (CDCTC), a tax benefit that helps families pay for child care they need in order to work or go to school. The credit also is available to families that are responsible for the care of a spouse or other adult dependent.  The President's proposal would triple the maximum CDCTC for families with children under 5, increasing it to $3,000 per child.  It would also expand the CDCTC, making the full credit - for young children, older children, and elderly or disabled dependents – available to families with incomes up to $120,000.  Finally, the Administration is seeking to streamline the current system, in part by replacing these incentives with one simple child care tax benefit.  According to the Administration, these changes would benefit 5.1 million families, helping them cover child care costs for 6.7 million children, including 3.5 million children under 5.

The third element of the President's proposal is to invest $100 million in a new innovation fund that would provide competitive grants to states, territories, tribes, and communities to develop, implement, and evaluate models of providing child care that address the unmet needs of families who face unique challenges to finding child care.  These pilots could be used to develop promising practices for vulnerable populations, including families in rural communities or children with disabilities, parents who work non-traditional hours, and families who have difficulty finding high-quality child care.

The President's three-pronged child care proposal is one component of the Administration's broader early education agenda, which also includes:

For more information on the child care policies President Obama outlined in his State of the Union address, please see this Fact Sheet.

PAID LEAVE

I'll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let's put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

President Obama wants Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would give workers the opportunity to accrue up to seven days per year of paid sick leave. Championed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the legislation would allow workers to use this time to care for themselves or a sick family member, obtain preventive care, or address the impacts of domestic violence. 

President Obama also wants states to pass similar laws.  His FY 2016 budget will include $2.2 billion in mandatory funding to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs, following the example of California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Additionally, he announced in January that the Department of Labor will use existing funds to provide $1 million in competitive grants to six to ten states or cities for the purpose of conducting paid leave feasibility studies.

These proposals build on actions President Obama has taken with respect to the federal workers, including signing a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child and calling on Congress to pass legislation giving federal employees six weeks of paid parental leave:

  • On January 15, 2014, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to allow for the advance of six weeks of paid sick leave for parents with a new child, employees caring for ill family members, and other sick leave-eligible uses.  The Presidential Memorandum also directs agencies to consider a benefit some agencies already offer through their Employee Assistance Program—help finding, and in some cases providing, emergency backup care for children, seniors, and adults with disabilities that parents can use when they need to go to work but their regular care is not available. 

  • The President is proposing legislation similar to the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act championed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).  While federal workers already have access to paid sick leave and vacation time, the government offers no paid time off specifically for family or parental leave. The legislative proposals supported by the White House would provide federal employees with six weeks of paid administrative leave for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child; and would allow parents to use sick days to care for a healthy child after a birth mother's period of incapacitation or after an adoption.

For more information on the paid leave policies President Obama outlined in his State of the Union address, please see this Fact Sheet.

WAGES

Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

As part of their efforts to address the male-female income disparity in the United States, the Administration has consistently supported the Paycheck Fairness Act.  Most recently sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), that bill would try to promote pay equity by promoting pay transparency — forcing employers to justify wage differentials, for example, as well as prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about wages. More information about the White House's position on equal pay is available here.

We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

Earlier this year, President Obama asked the Department of Labor (DOL) to update the regulations regarding who qualifies for overtime protection. In so doing, DOL could seek to raise the minimum threshold under which workers must be paid time-and-a-half for working over 40 hours in a week. Currently, this is just under $24,000 per year. The White House and DOL reportedly want to push it to $42,000. President Obama is also calling on DOL to increase penalties against employers who violate the existing overtime rules. For more information on the Administration's efforts around overtime protections, please see this Fact Sheet.

And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

President Obama made his initial call to raise the minimum wage in the 2013 State of the Union.  Since then, 17 states and the District of Columbia have taken action to raise wages.  The White House continues to call on Congress, states, cities, and businesses to follow suit. 

For more information about the White House's position on the minimum wage, please follow this link.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

But things like…lower mortgage premiums…these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

In January, President Obama directed the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to lower its mortgage insurance premium by 0.5 percentage point, from 1.35% to 0.85%. The White House estimates that for the typical first-time homebuyer, this reduction will translate into a $900 reduction in their annual mortgage payment, and that existing homeowners who refinance into an FHA mortgage will see similar reductions to their mortgage payments.

For more information on the affordable housing policies President Obama referenced in his State of the Union address, please see this Fact Sheet.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE

I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

On January 9, President Obama announced his proposal to pay for two-year community college tuition for qualifying students. Based on similar efforts in Tennessee and Chicago, this would be paid for through a federal-state partnership, with the federal government covering 75% of the tuition price. The White House estimates that 9 million students would be eligible for this new program, saving $3,800 a year on average.

Under the Administration's plan, after states achieve tuition-free community college with their grants, they can spend the remaining funds on expanding quality community college offerings, improving affordability at four-year public universities, and improving college readiness, through outreach and early intervention. The President's proposal also includes a new American Technical Training Fund that will help community colleges and other institutions develop programs that have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities for students to lead to better employment outcomes.

For more information on the community college tuition proposal President Obama referenced in his State of the Union address, please see this Fact Sheet.

PRECISION MEDICINE

Tonight, I'm launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes – and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

Last week, the Administration unveiled some of the details around its $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative, announcing that more detail would be included in the President's FY 2016 budget request to Congress.  Precision medicine describes a growing movement in medicine to build treatments specifically targeted to an individual's genetic make-up. That is, moving away from the “one-size-fits-all-approach” to disease prevention and medical treatments, precision medicine takes into account individual differences in people's genes, environments, and lifestyles.  This gives clinicians tools to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying a patient's health, disease, or condition, and to better predict which treatments will be most effective.

Objectives of the Administration's initiative include accelerating the design and testing of effective, tailored cancer treatments; creating a voluntary national research cohort of at least one million Americans; launching a multi-stakeholder process to ensure the Initiative adheres to rigorous privacy protections; reviewing the current regulatory landscape to determine whether changes are needed to support  the development of this new research and care model; and forging strong public-private partnerships to develop the infrastructure that will be needed to achieve these goals.

For more information on the Precision Medicine Initiative President Obama announced in his State of the Union address, please see this Fact Sheet.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all. – President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

President Obama is actually alluding to two different clusters of policies here - reducing incarceration and reforming policing.

With respect to the former, the Administration is overseeing a couple of major efforts to reduce the prison population, including efforts to break the cycle between drug use and crime, as well as to examine alternatives to incarceration, and to engage communities on the  need to support young people. Additionally, after the federal sentencing guidelines for drug crimes were changed a few years ago, the US Sentencing Commission ruled last year that as many as 46,000 current drug prisoners should be allowed to get their terms reduced: the first prisoners helped by the policy will be released starting November, 2015. Meanwhile, a separate effort is underway, attempting to pardon many other drug offenders. Last spring, the Obama Administration began an aggressive new effort to foster equity in criminal sentencing by considering clemency requests from as many as thousands of federal inmates serving time for drug offenses.

On policing, the Administration has just reformed the way it helps local police officers with seizing the property of people who weren't convicted of crimes, and it's also reviewing the way the federal government sends surplus military equipment to police, as well as several other actions. For example:

  • In the wake of unrest in Ferguson and protests across the country this fall, President Obama signed an Executive Order to establish a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The purpose of the Task Force is to identify best practices and make recommendations to the President on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust and examine, among other issues, how to foster strong, collaborative relationships between local law enforcement and the communities they protect. The Task Force is expected to offer recommendations in March.

  • The President also proposed a three-year $263 million investment package that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies (LEAs), add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where DOJ facilitates community and local LEA engagement.
    On January 16, the President signed an Executive Order creating an interagency Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group that will provide specific recommendations to the President regarding Federal funds and programs that provide certain equipment to state and local LEAs.

  • While policies impacting police-community relations are largely up to state and local governments, in September 2014, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder announced the launch of the Justice Department's National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.  Funded through a $4.75 million grant, the initiative is intended to create a substantial investment in training, evidence-based strategies, policy development and research to combat distrust and hostility between law enforcement and the communities they serve.