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LISC 30th Anniversary Leadership Symposium

March 25, 2011
Washington, DC

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Michael, thank you for that kind introduction and for your tireless leadership at the helm of LISC.

I also want to thank our moderator this morning, Julia Stasch, as well as our panelists for sharing their insight and experience.

I am delighted to join you in celebrating 30 years of investment and innovation in some of our country’s most vulnerable communities.

The billions of dollars that LISC has raised and invested over that time have paid enormous dividends in lives changed and communities transformed.

From the ground up, LISC and its partners have built model programs across the country – from schools and day care centers, to job training, financial literacy campaigns, and community health centers.

So thank you for your engagement and partnership.

I’m glad to be here with you today because, at the Department of Health and Human Services and across the administration, we share LISC’s commitment to sustainable communities.

Our mission at our department is to improve the health and well-being of every American. And we understand that health is not just determined by what happens in the doctor’s office or operating room.

Our health is connected to our community. It is affected by where we live, work, go to school, and play – what we eat and drink, the air we breathe, and how we get from one place to the other.

And yet, in too many neighborhoods today, it’s hard, and sometimes impossible, to make healthy choices.

When you have to walk two miles to get fresh produce at the nearest supermarket but only half a block to get a bag of chips at the corner store, it’s hard to eat nutritious meals. When it’s not safe to walk, run or play outside, it’s hard to get exercise.

So as part of the Recovery Act and the health care law that President Obama signed a year ago this week, our department is taking historic steps to support some of the most promising approaches for promoting wellness and reducing chronic disease in cities across the country — from planting urban gardens in Boston, to building neighborhoods where it’s safe to walk and play in Louisville, to helping people quit smoking right here in DC.

You could say we’re taking the LISC approach: Letting local officials and community organizations show the way forward. They’re the ones shaping the programs, based on solid scientific evidence and their own experiences and expertise as community members and leaders. And our hope is that these communities can become models for the rest of the country.

We also know that too many neighborhoods have too few doctors and nurses. So we’re investing in our primary care workforce and encouraging clinicians to practice in our nation’s greatest areas of need through programs like the National Health Service Corps.

And so that those doctors, nurse practitioners and dentists have the opportunity to work in underserved communities, we’re investing billions to double the capacity of America’s community health centers over 5 years.

Community health centers are not just the place where people go when they get sick. They are the backbones of their communities.

They’re where Americans go when they need a check-up or to see a dentist. They’re where parents turn when they need counseling or help enrolling their children in CHIP or Head Start. When it comes to delivering high-quality care…to the people who need it most… in their own communities… on a broad scale… no one does it better.

So we’re committed to supporting communities where residents have access to the best care when the need it and the resources to live healthy lives.

That includes the special responsibility we have to our children, to make sure our communities are prepared to support their healthy development in their earliest years.

The best science tells us that the first five years of a child’s life are among the most important for healthy brain development. We also know that when children arrive at school ready to learn, they are more likely to thrive and succeed.

That’s why, through the health care law, we’re making an unprecedented five-year, $1.5 billion investment in evidence-based home visitation programs.

In these programs, trained professionals visit families in communities at risk to give them information and to support them as parents. They answer questions, share parenting tips, and help connect these families with other health and community services they may need.

Home-visitation is a proven model for catching problems early, connecting families that need extra help with services, and preventing problems such as child abuse, poor nutrition, or illness before they happen.

We’re also investing in early childhood education.

Funds under the Recovery Act added 4,000 Head Start classrooms, allowed states to provide child care assistance to an estimated 300,000 additional children, and financed new quality investments in Head Start and child care programs.

But our commitment to raising the bar on quality in Head Start and child care did not end with the Recovery Act. We’ve revamped our training programs for Head Start providers so best practices can be spread to Head Start classrooms in communities across the country. And, we’ve issued proposed rules that, for the first time, will require low performing Head Start programs to compete for continued funding.

A quality Head Start program can strengthen a community’s fabric – becoming a hub for family support as well as education. But, we need to make sure that funds are used to support the most effective programs, so that every community has the quality programs it deserves.

Our budget also calls for critical reforms in our child care system – to improve health and safety standards and to promote state efforts to give parents information about the quality of care provided by different programs.

And our budget seeks to spur innovation in the early education field through the Early Learning Challenge Fund: a partnership with the Department of Education that will promote State innovation in early education.

Taken together, these initiatives are designed to create an early learning system that gets every child in every community ready for school.

It will support healthy child development and feature high standards whether a child is in a public pre-K program, a Head Start center, a child care center, or a family day care home.

Earlier this year, we got the results of the latest study to look at the value of early education. Researchers followed children from low income families enrolled in a Chicago early education program until they turned 26. They found that over a child’s lifetime, the program generated as much as $11 in economic benefits for every dollar spent. That’s a return on investment that any business would be envious of.

But our work to help kids reach their full potential can’t stop when they leave the classroom or the child care center.

As parents know, kids need a lot more than a good education to reach their full potential. That includes access to affordable health care. Kids can’t succeed if their illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated.

But, today, more than 7 million American children have no health insurance. That’s simply unacceptable.

Even more unacceptable is that most of those children are eligible for health insurance, through the Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicaid. They just aren’t signed up.

That’s why last year I issued the “Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge.” I’m calling on Governors, Mayors, school officials, pediatricians, faith groups, and community development organizations like yours around the country to find these kids and get them enrolled in health insurance.

We also need to make sure families know about all the new benefits available to them as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Thanks to the health care law, sick children can no longer be refused coverage because they have a pre-existing condition like asthma or diabetes. In 2014, the days of insurers discriminating based on pre-existing conditions will be gone for good.

There’s also a new Patient’s Bill of Rights that’s outlawed many of the worst practices of the insurance industry like canceling someone’s coverage because of a mistake on their paperwork.

And there are long overdue reforms to bring down health insurance costs and provide better options for the families and small business owners who purchase coverage on their own.

When we help children and their families get a better education, better care and better health, we’re giving them the opportunity to achieve their greatest potential. That’s an investment that pays off for our communities and our nation many times over.

It won’t come quickly or easily. As our Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh sometimes says, “an ounce of prevention can take a ton of work.”

But we know it can be done because communities across the country are already doing it. They are leading the way.

And in our department, we realize that the best thing we can do is often to support, invest in, and publicize these efforts to help them spread.

So I look forward to hearing about the ideas and the partnerships that come out this week’s symposium and working together with you to build a healthier more prosperous country one community at a time.