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17 December 2013 Written by  Hazel Trice Edney

President Obama: ‘Help Our Less Fortunate’ at Christmas

With a bi-partisan budget agreement established with no continuation of unemployment benefits, President Obama has appealed for Americans to “Help Our Less Fortunate” at Christmas.

 “Every year, we mark the holiday season with celebrations and good cheer.  And I should remind my girls that I like getting Christmas presents as much as anybody. But this is also a time to remember the story of a child born to two faithful travelers on a holy night, long ago,” said the President in a rare moment of public reflection from a Christian perspective. “The sacred birth of Jesus Christ was God’s gift to man on Earth.  And, through His example, He taught us that we should love the Lord, love our neighbors, as we love ourselves.  It’s a teaching that has endured for generations.  And today, it lies at the heart of my faith and that of millions of Americans, and billions around the globe.”

With a gradually improving economy, a bi-partisan budget agreement that will avoid another government shutdown, and a Congress about to recess for Christmas, Obama made note of the economic disparities that remain.

“No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message of hope and devotion that can unite all of us this holiday season,” he said.  “It compels all of us to reach out and help our less fortunate citizens - our poor, our sick, our neighbors in need - and to serve those who sacrifice so much on our behalf.”

The President’s words of compassion were spoken between the music and festivities of the 32nd “Christmas in Washington” Broadcast held at the National Building Museum in Washington Dec. 15. This year’s event benefitted the Children’s National Medical Center.

With what appears to be a repaired Affordable Care Act website bringing a degree of justice and parity to health care in America, the President must now focus on his annual State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress Jan. 28. With three more years in office, Obama is expected to speak strongly on strengthening the economy – specifically healing economic inequities.

Meanwhile, in establishing a bi-partisan budget deal, Congress cut off extended unemployment benefits to 1.3 million Americans. Those benefits will end just after Christmas, causing great hardships to many.

“While the budget agreement is a slight improvement over current law because it provides temporary relief from across-the-board, automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, it shortchanges federal employees and turn its back on millions of unemployed Americans,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) in a statement.

She refused to vote for the budget bill, noting “Unless reauthorized, unemployment benefits to 1.3 million Americans … will end on December 28th. This cutoff will affect more than 3 million Americans over the next six months.”

With 1.3 million fewer jobs than in 2008 when the recession began, Fudge pointed out that “Unemployment benefits play a critical role in helping Americans get back on their feet and strengthening our economy.  In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found that unemployment benefits are one of the most effective fiscal policies to increase economic growth and employment. Nevertheless, Republican members of Congress argued that continuing to extend the benefits hurts the deficit. President Obama had also appealed for the extension of the unemployment benefits as well as a hike in minimum wage, but - so far - to no avail.

Giving hope for 2014, the conversation about poverty in America appears to be increasing despite little talk of new policies to deal with it. Upon the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington, Martin Luther King III – in the presence of President Obama – pointed out that the economic gap between Blacks and Whites had remained consistent for the past five decades. That included the unemployment rate which, in 1963, was 5 percent for Whites and 10.9 percent for Blacks. In August it was 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks, about the same 6 percentage points apart.

Civil rights leaders have been consistent in their outcries on behalf of the poor.

“Many of those excluded are found waiting in America. They wait while some in Congress would cut $8 billion from food stamps, or cut off benefits for more than a million long-term unemployed citizens,” wrote National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial in a recent column. “They wait while the President’s proposal and the economic wisdom of a raise in the minimum wage continue to languish on Capitol Hill.  They wait while working jobs for wages too low to support the basic needs of their families.  They wait while some in Congress continue to resist transportation and infrastructure funding and the good paying jobs that would result.”\

Concluding his column, Morial quoted the late Nelson Mandela who was laid to rest on Sunday: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.  Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural.  It is manmade and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.  Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great.  You can be that great generation.  Let your greatness blossom.”