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The National Council of La Raza Symposium on Latino Children and Youth

Washington, DC - October 22, 2009

Buenos dias. Thank you, Janet, for that introduction. Janet’s a great friend of mine from Kansas, and America’s Latinos couldn’t ask for a better advocate here in Washington.

I also want to thank NCLR for its untiring work to improve Americans’ lives. Whether it’s housing or education or health care or civil rights, NCLR has been a leader in the fight for justice and opportunity in America for over 40 years.

Finally, I want to thank Atlantic Philanthropies and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for hosting a symposium on such an important topic. Los niños son el futuro. That’s especially true when we’re talking about Latino children in America.

Today, Latino kids make up one-quarter of US kindergartners. It’s estimated that half of U.S. population growth over the next 40 years will be among Latinos. That means that the stakes for this symposium are high. As Latino kids go, so will our country.

If our Latino children grow up to be prosperous, healthy, productive adults, America will be stronger than ever. If disparities persist, it will be hard for us to compete with countries that have a wider base of opportunity.

President Obama understands this. That’s why he’s made investing in children one of his administration’s top priorities. It’s a mission we’re reminded of at my department every day when we get to work.

The first thing we see when we come through the doors is a quote on the wall from Hubert Humphrey. It begins, “The moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children.”

These words drive us. They give us purpose. And over the last 9 months, we’ve moved forward with a broad agenda to increase opportunity and security for America’s children.

We know that early education matters. If you’re ready for kindergarten, you have a better chance of graduating from high school. If you graduate from high school, you have a better chance of graduating from college, which means you have a better chance of getting a good job.

That’s why we put over $4 billion in new early learning investments in the Recovery Act. This new funding will allow us to expand Head Start, almost double Early Head Start, and provide child care relief to thousands of families. In Arizona for example, we’ll be able to maintain child care for 15,000 kids who were originally scheduled to lose it.

That’s a big deal. But it’s not enough to increase the number of kids in these programs. We also need to increase the quality of the programs. That’s why we’re also supporting a new concept called the Early Learning Challenge Fund, which is part of the higher education bill that’s already passed the House. The Challenge Fund will help states develop high-quality early learning programs and then help those programs spread.

No one will benefit more from these programs than Latino children. One in three Latino kids under the age of five currently lives in poverty. But no matter how good an education you get, it’s hard to thrive if you’re sick or in pain or can’t get the health care you need. That’s why this administration is also making a major push to improve our children’s health.

With strong support from NCLR, one of the first bills President Obama signed was the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or as we call it, CHIP. As you all know, the bill not only increased federal funding for CHIP. It also gave states the option of providing Medicaid and CHIP coverage to kids and pregnant women who are legal residents without waiting 5 years as they were previously required to. And today, I’m proud to report that 17 states have already waived that five-year waiting period, clearing the way for thousands of hard-working families to get the care they need.

We want as many kids to have health insurance as possible. That means expanding access and enrollment. So as part of the CHIIP reauthorization, we’ve also provided $40 million in outreach grants to groups like the South End Community Health Center in Boston. With our support, they’re working to sign up new CHIP and Medicaid enrollees in Latino neighborhoods. And they’re creating an automated system that will remind people to renew their coverage.

These changes will give more Latino families the security that comes from dependable health insurance. But insurance doesn’t do you much good if you can’t get a doctor’s appointment. That’s why as part of the Recovery Act, we’re also investing $2 billion in community health centers, which served over five-and-a-half million Latinos last year.

Doctor-patient communication is also critical. For example, Latinos with limited English proficiency are four times more likely than native speakers to end up in the emergency room because of complications from asthma. That’s just wrong. So we’re investing in a variety of programs to train more Latino doctors and nurses so that no American gets sick just because they can’t understand their doctor’s instructions.

All these steps will help Latino kids get the care they need. But we also know that kids’ health doesn’t just depend on what happens in the doctor’s office. It depends on diet and exercise and the environment you grow up in. Today, one in three American kids is overweight or obese. For Latino kids, the percentage is even higher.

This is more than unhealthy. It’s dangerous. Being overweight increases a child’s chances of developing heart disease, asthma, and depression. Some of us can remember when they used to call type 2 diabetes adult-onset diabetes. Now they can’t use the name because so many kids are getting it.

To improve our children’s health, we’ve made a huge Recovery Act investment in prevention and wellness, including $650 million to prevent chronic disease. Most of these funds will go to community initiatives like the Complete Streets program in Miami, which redesigned Latino neighborhoods to make them more pedestrian-friendly so that kids got more exercise. And we encourage you to work with your mayors and governors to apply for these funds.

We’re moving forward in all of these areas to improve the health of our children. But the biggest way we can help Latino families this year…the biggest single step we can take, by far…is passing health insurance reform.

Latinos are more likely than other Americans to get diseases like diabetes or HIV/AIDS. They’re less likely to get important preventive screenings like colonoscopies or have a primary doctor. And a higher percentage of Latinos are uninsured than any other group.

Health insurance reform will reduce all of these disparities. It will give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance. And it will increase security and stability for those of us who already have coverage.

But it will also expand access to quality care by eliminating co-pays for preventive treatments and investing in other proven approaches. And it will slow rising costs so that they don’t bankrupt our kids. If we pass health insurance reform this year, we can look forward to a future where no American goes broke because of a hospital bill ever again.

I’d like to finish by saying a few words about the 2009 H1N1 flu. As you know, this flu is especially dangerous for our children. Over half the Americans hospitalized so far from the H1N1 flu have been under the age of 25. So have a quarter of the Americans who have died.

The good news is, we’ve never been this prepared for flu season. Starting in April when the H1N1 flu was detected, we’ve been working around the clock with partners inside and outside government to get ready.

With your help, we held a televised, Spanish-language town hall with members of the Administration and the Latino community. We’ve also reached out to Latino groups through a partnership between NCLR and our Office of Minority Health, through Spanish-language PSAs, and through our website,, which we’ve translated into Spanish.

Now that the vaccine shipments have begun, we have an additional job to do. We need to make sure people who need the vaccine know where and how to get it. And to do that, we need your help.

We need you to keep reaching out to the Latino community to tell them how to stay healthy and what to do if someone they know gets sick. That’s still important. But we also need you to tell people to get vaccinated, especially if they’re in an at-risk group like children, pregnant women, and people with underlying conditions like diabetes and asthma. If they have any questions about the flu including where to get vaccinated, send them to

We also need you to fight back against some the myths about the vaccine. Contrary to what some people believe, the vaccine isn’t expensive. The government is providing it for free, and you can either get it cheaply at a doctor’s office or for no fee at all at public vaccination clinics. Another rumor going around is that people will get their papers checked at vaccination sites. That’s totally false. You don’t have to show any ID to get the vaccine.

Recently, we’ve seen a spike in fraudulent products that claim they can protect people from the H1N1 flu. These range from ultraviolet lights to air filters. NCLR is the most trusted name in the Latino community, and we need you to tell people that unless the CDC or your doctor vouches for a product, you should be wary. The more correct information people have, the stronger our defenses against the flu.

With you help, we can achieve this agenda. We can keep our kids safe this winter. We can give them a stronger start at school. We can help them have healthier lifestyles. We can provide them with quality, affordable, health care. We can do all these things.

I know there are some people who say, “This is too much. Pick one issue. We can’t attack all these problems at once.”

To which the rest of us – in the words of the United Farm Workers and a campaign that changed America – say: Yes we can. Si se puede (See say poo-eh-deh)!