President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled his "Promise Zone" program which will give communities preferential treatment when applying for federal grants to boost early education, reduce crime and foster economic growth, while also offering tax incentives.
The five regions identified – a blend of rural, urban and tribal communities, some of them predominantly Latino – are the first of 20 Promise Zones the administration intends to announce over the next three years. They include portions of San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the entire Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Under the program, communities in the zones would have a leg up applying for federal grants, would benefit from more coordinated government assistance and would be singled out for possible congressionally-approved tax incentives.
Thursday's announcement was part of an orchestrated White House lead-up to his State of the Union address on Jan. 28. Next week Obama will go to North Carolina to showcase programs that connect companies and colleges in an attempt to boost high-tech manufacturing. He also plans two meetings with CEOs this month to identify ways to give workers more skills and to get commitments for the hiring of Americans who have been unemployed for a long time.
In San Antonio, the Eastside Neighborhood, where 60 percent of the population is Hispanic, will receive help aimed toward job creation and training, improving street lighting, demolishing abandoned buildings and installing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus in the local schools.
The Los Angeles Promise Zone incorporates Pico Union, Westlake, Koreatown, Hollywood and East Hollywood, neighborhoods where Latino families make up between 42 and 85 percent of the population. The median family income is $29,500.
The Obama administration wants to focus efforts there on housing affordability, public transportation and bike lanes while partnering with the Youth Policy Institute and L.A. Unified School District to expand the Full Service Community Schools model from just 7 schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019.
At more than 26 percent, Philadelphia's poverty rate is higher than that of any major U.S. city, according to the U.S. Census. The president's promise to West Philly – a predominantly African-American neighborhood – includes a plan to improve education through partnerships with Drexel University and the William Penn Foundation, while adding more adult education classes and small business development to support entrepreneurs.
The president named the new zones at a bipartisan White House assembly. Invoking his own personal story, Obama made a plea for a bipartisan effort to combat poverty and declared, after a 2013 marked by struggles and disappointments, "This is going to be a year of action."
"We've got to make sure this recovery — which is real — leaves nobody behind," Obama said. "And that's going to be my focus throughout the year."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.