from the White House
the Executive Branch


from the White House
the Executive Branch - The White House


A Special Moment for Service

Friday, March 27, 2009

Last night the Senate passed a bill close to the President’s heart, we asked Carlos Monje Jr., Senior Policy Advisor at the Domestic Policy Council to go explain what it meant a little more in-depth:

We had an exciting day in the White House yesterday. The Senate passed legislation to dramatically expand service opportunities for Americans of all ages. By an overwhelming vote of 79-19, the Senate approved the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, a bill that will take the next quantum leap in national service.

The legislation is important because it is core to what the President believes – that all of us need to work together to make a difference. As he said in his praise of the bill’s passage:

"Our work is not finished when I sign this bill into law – it has just begun. While our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. To do our part to lift up our fellow Americans. To realize our own true potential. I call on all Americans to stand up and do what they can to serve their communities, shape our history and enrich both their own lives and the lives of others across this country."

The bill contains key elements of the President’s national service agenda: Creating an army of 250,000 Americans a year involved in full and part time service to address some of our nation’s greatest challenges, including healthcare, education, energy and economic opportunity; expanding service-learning to engage young-people and put them onto a pathway to service; providing better service opportunities for seniors and boomers; and establishing a Social Innovation Fund to identify and grow programs that fix tough community problems.

Public service is something close to the President and First Lady’s hearts. President Obama started his career as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and Mrs. Obama was the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago, an AmeriCorps Program. They have talked often about how service can transform individuals and the communities in which they work. Last week, the First Lady made her own case for service when she joined YouthBuild participants on the National Mall. She told the young people:

"Community service is an integral part of empowering our people and making our communities stronger. And service must become a part of each of our lives. It has to be an integral part of each of our lives if we're going to create a more unified nation that we all want and that our President talks so much about."

Seeing this bill moving one giant step closer to completion is a special moment. I was lucky enough to work on national service issues during the campaign, and watching these ideas move from a conference table in Chicago to the halls of Congress shows what an incredible movement the American people created in electing Barack Obama president.

More than that, I continue to be amazed by the thousands of people who have spent decades building the national service movement and believing in its potential. The men and women who serve in nonprofit groups across the country live their lives according to the creed that ‘I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.’ They make this country work and they have maintained momentum for this legislation. The employees of the Corporation for National and Community Service--many of whom have been working there since its inception in 1993—are an incredible team. They wake up every day with the sole mission of giving other Americans the chance to serve, and they have been instrumental in improving this legislation line by line.

The House and Senate Staff who have been working long nights and longer weekends are incredible professionals whose quick work will see this legislation through to final passage. And these bills would be nowhere without the work of leaders like Harris Wofford, the former U.S. Senator and former CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who at 82 is an indefatigable champion of service.

This is a piece of legislation everybody in the Administration will feel proud of when it’s signed, it feels close.

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H1 N1 Flue Information:

from the Department of Homeland Security

Remarks by Secretary Napolitano at Today's Media Briefing on the H1N1 Flu Outbreak

Release Date: May 6, 2009

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact 202-282-8010
Washington, D.C.

Secretary Napolitano:   Good afternoon. Let me begin by saying this is the last day we plan to hold a daily briefing on the H1N1 flu situation. We will have briefings on an as-needed basis as new details warrant. So today I want to talk about where we are and then where we are going.

The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has confirmed 642 cases of H1N1 flu in 41 states. Additionally, CDC has begun reporting probable cases as well, which now stand at 845 in 42 states. Sadly, we also learned of the second death in the United States from H1N1 flu. This death was reported in Texas. We are respecting the privacy of that individual and that individual's family, and our thoughts and our prayers are with them.

Despite this loss and despite the fact that others may still come, the science tells us that this is most likely a milder strain than we first feared. As such, yesterday the CDC revised their school closure guidance and the doors of classrooms are and will be reopening across the country. But as I said yesterday, now is not the time to declare victory. We continue to have cases. We continue to vigilantly monitor the situation. And even if the encouraging signs we are now seeing hold firm, we know that this virus could come back stronger in the fall.

So where are we going? In the coming weeks and months ahead, we will be involved in an ongoing series of actions to ensure individuals, families, government, and private sector entities are well-prepared for what may come next. First is to work in a collective manner with the public health community and our international partners, closely monitoring the H1N1 flu to determine if it becomes more contagious and more severe than this initial outbreak. The Southern Hemisphere is entering its flu season now. We will pay close attention to the virus there.

Next, the CDC has already taken the first step on the vaccine by isolating the H1N1 strain. Once a reference strain has been developed—which CDC is now working on—they can at that time share it with pharmaceutical companies to produce an initial vaccine to test. As we are monitoring the progress of the vaccine, we'll also be taking a number of concurrent steps to enhance the nation's readiness for a potentially severe pandemic. Right now we don't know if this will be the case. But we want to have—we have an obligation to err on the side of safety. Thus, we are working across the federal government to ensure that plans for pandemic are revised in light of our experience these past 10 days—that we are as prepared and have thought through as many issues as possible should this virus re-present itself in the fall. 

Next we are continuing working with state, local, tribal, and territorial health officials and emergency managers because they, too, have now seen after this round of outbreak what gaps they may have in their systems, and we want to work with them on that and what needs to be present.

Next we will continue to work with the private sector to make sure they have plans in place should a pandemic threaten their workforce. Again, over the past days we've had unprecedented contracts with the private sector. Indeed, we've had conference calls with more than 1,000 participants. But I think what came out of those calls is that many in the private sector really have gone through what they need to have in place to continue their business operations should they experience a high rate of absenteeism. So that work will continue as well.

Next we will continue to meet with President Obama, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, and other Cabinet members to go over additional areas where the federal government's response can be even more robust than it was this past ten days.

Finally, again, this is an area where we want to lean forward. This is an area where we are not declaring victory. "Cautious action" might be a phrase we could use—but where we need to continue to lean forward. And individuals and families, in addition to businesses and governments and public health authorities, individuals and families have a shared responsibility here as well: the responsibility to stay home from work; keep your child home from school if you are sick with the flu; to cover your mouth when you cough, but cover it with your sleeve, not with your hand; to take common-sense steps to protect yourself and your family, including washing your hands regularly; and thinking through what you would do in your family if, for example, in the fall the schools need to close again for some period of time. We hope that is not the case—but again, part of being prepared for flu is thinking ahead of the flu and staying ahead of the flu, and that is what we intend to accomplish.

from the World Health Organization

Swine influenza

April 29, 2009

Statement by WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan:

Ladies and gentlemen,

Based on assessment of all available information, and following several expert consultations, I have decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5.

Influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world.

On the positive side, the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history.

Preparedness measures undertaken because of the threat from H5N1 avian influenza were an investment, and we are now benefitting from this investment.

For the first time in history, we can track the evolution of a pandemic in real-time.

I thank countries who are making the results of their investigations publicly available. This helps us understand the disease.

I am impressed by the work being done by affected countries as they deal with the current outbreaks.

I also want to thank the governments of the USA and Canada for their support to WHO, and to Mexico.

Let me remind you. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behaviour.

WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.

WHO will be tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical, and virological levels.

The results of these ongoing assessments will be issued as public health advice, and made publicly available.

All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.

This change to a higher phase of alert is a signal to governments, to ministries of health and other ministries, to the pharmaceutical industry and the business community that certain actions should now be undertaken with increased urgency, and at an accelerated pace.

I have reached out to donor countries, to UNITAID, to the GAVI Alliance, the World Bank and others to mobilize resources.

I have reached out to companies manufacturing antiviral drugs to assess capacity and all options for ramping up production.

I have also reached out to influenza vaccine manufacturers that can contribute to the production of a pandemic vaccine.

The biggest question, right now, is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start?

It is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. We need to continue to monitor the evolution of the situation to get the specific information and data we need to answer this question.

From past experience, we also know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries.

No matter what the situation is, the international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up preparedness and response.

Above all, this is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity. After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.

As I have said, we do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.

Thank you.

Related links from WHO

Watch the video [wmv, 7min 13 sec]

Listen to the audio [mp3 57 Mb]

Swine influenza - full coverage

Current WHO phase of pandemic alert

International Health Regulations (IHR)

Protecting Homeowners, Protecting the Economy

from the White House

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

The President has just signed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act into law, landmark pieces of legislation addressing the problems that helped set off the economic crisis we are fighting through now.

The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act gives the federal government more tools to crack down on the kind of fraud that put thousands of hardworking families at risk of losing their homes despite doing everything right to live within their means. It expands the Department of Justice’s ability to prosecute at virtually every step of the process from predatory lending on Main Street to the manipulation on Wall Street. It also creates a bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the financial practices that brought us to this point, so that we make sure it never happens again.
Before signing it, the President said:

Last year, the Treasury Department received 62,000 reports of mortgage fraud -- more than 5,000 each month. The number of criminal mortgage fraud investigations opened by the FBI has more than doubled over the past three years. And yet, the federal government's ability to investigate and prosecute these frauds is severely hindered by outdated laws and a lack of resources.

And that's why this bill nearly doubles the FBI's mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hard-hit areas. That's why it provides the resources necessary for other law enforcement and federal agencies, from the Department of Justice to the SEC to the Secret Service, to pursue these criminals, bring them to justice, and protect hardworking Americans affected most by these crimes. It's also why it expands DOJ's authority to prosecute fraud that takes place in many of the private institutions not covered under current federal bank fraud criminal statutes -- institutions where more than half of all subprime mortgages came from as recently as four years ago.

The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act expands on the success of the Making Home Affordable Program first announced in February. By reducing foreclosures around the country, the average homeowner could see their house price bolstered by as much as $6,000 as a result of this plan, and as many as 9 million homeowners could get help making their mortgages affordable and avoid preventable foreclosures. This bill makes this help easier to access and take advantage of, helps get credit flowing again, establishes protections for renters living in foreclosed homes, and establishes the right of a homeowner to know who owns their mortgage. It also provides $2.2 billion to address homelessness, helping families be part of the recovery one by one.
Before signing it, the President said:

Let me talk a little bit about the housing bill. The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act advances the goals of our existing housing plan by providing assistance to responsible homeowners and preventing avoidable foreclosures. Last summer, Congress passed the HOPE for Homeowners Act to help families who found themselves "underwater" as a result of declining home values -- families who owed more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. But too many administrative and technical hurdles made it very difficult to navigate, and most borrowers didn't even bother to try.

This bill removes those hurdles, getting folks into sustainable and affordable mortgages, and more importantly, keeping them in their homes. And it expands the reach of our existing housing plan for homeowners with FHA or USDA rural housing loans, providing them with new opportunities to modify or refinance their mortgages to more affordable levels.

Any plan is only as effective as the number of people who take advantage of it. This bill recognized that, but if you think you might benefit from refinancing as millions of other Americans could, go to to find out if you or your family is eligible.  Learn more about these bills through the White House fact sheet out today.