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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
National Council of La Raza Conference — Health Care Town Hall Forum
Chicago, Illinois
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Muchas gracias!

Thank you very much.

It is great to be here in the windy city, in the hometown of our President — Barack Obama.

And it's always great to be with the National Council of La Raza.

Before I begin, I wanted to thank Janet Murguía, the NCLR board and staff for the outstanding work they do each day on behalf of the Latino community and our country. NCLR is a bedrock for the Latino community — committed to strengthening this great nation by promoting the advancement of Latino families. I am proud of what NCLR stands for and the work that your organization and affiliates across our country do everyday.

I want to thank you for your support during my confirmation process and for your efforts to improve the health of Latino communities. I also want to say that it is a pleasure to be here with this distinguished panel and to share in this dialogue.

Your theme, "A New Era of Responsibility: Community, Unity, Purpose," is both timely and very relevant to where our nation is.

Our country just witnessed an historic election in November, one which reflects the massive demographic, socio-economic and cultural shifts over the past quarter-century. The election of President Obama was a symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation's burdened racial history, a breakthrough that would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. As the first Latina cabinet member, I am proud to be part of the president's administration, proud to serve my country and proud to represent all of you as your Secretary of Labor.

These are exciting changes, but we continue to face many challenges. When this administration came into office, we were facing the worst economy since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. The growth rate had hit negative 6.3 percent — the worst since the 1982 recession. Foreclosures were at record levels, and residential investment had fallen by more than 40% in just 18 months.

Within a few weeks of taking office, President Barack Obama took this problem head-on and passed the most significant single investment our nation has ever made to ensure our future economic success — the Recovery Act. In less than 150 days, the Recovery Act, along with our other economic initiatives, has worked to stabilize economic conditions and help those harmed by the economic crisis.

We are not in recovery yet, but we have created the stability necessary to get us there. Our economic problems are years in the making, and they won't be solved overnight. But the Recovery Act has helped pull us back from the brink and avoid the peril that could have occurred.

The president and I are keenly aware of the challenges Americans are facing, and their struggle is the single, most important focus of this administration. We will not be satisfied until we are seeing robust monthly job growth delivering income gains to American families across the economic spectrum. We know what we really need are good jobs for everyone. Good jobs that can support a family. Good jobs that are secure. Good jobs that are sustainable for a 21st century economy.

Jobs in health care are examples of the kinds of jobs that will be sustainable and secure. Unfortunately, Latinos have been, and continue to be, under-represented in health care. With Latinos constituting the largest minority group in this country and the number of Latino older adults increasing, it is imperative that we recruit and retain Latino doctors, nurses and direct care workers. I believe we need to support innovative ways to serve hard-to-reach populations, and I have seen how effective programs such as Promotoras de Salud are.

I have a long-standing commitment to culturally and linguistically appropriate care for all communities. I believe this starts with ensuring that the workforce represents the community. I have brought this commitment with me to the Department of Labor.

Earlier this week I announced that the Labor Department is allocating $220 million in grants for training in healthcare careers. These grants are open for competition until October 5, 2009. Eligible applicants include non-profit and public entities, such as community-based organizations, tribal organizations, education and training providers and labor unions. These grants require strong partnerships and must include industry-related organizations, such as community health centers. Funds can be used to provide basic services within targeted populations. Individuals eligible to receive training include people on public assistance, high school drop-outs, individuals with disabilities, veterans, Indians and Native Americans, and individuals with Limited English Proficiency.

With these investments, we can ensure our familias have the skills needed to compete for jobs in the health care sector. Diversity in the health professions is crucial for protecting and promoting the health of the nation. Increasing the numbers of Latino health professionals will help reduce inequities in health and will contribute to improved health for all Americans.

Workers and working families need our help now more than ever, and providing good jobs and keeping workers healthy are my primary focus. This means protecting our workers from unsafe work places and from unjust labor practices.

That is why I am adding additional resources to the Wage and Hour Division, hiring more compliance safety and health officers, and increasing the number of enforcement staff in the Employee Benefits Security Administration. In a single year, we will be adding nearly 670 additional investigators, inspectors, and other program staff to make sure that employees are complying with workplace standards.

I also wanted to ensure that workers who have lost their jobs have access to proper medical care. That is why the Department of Labor has also implemented provisions of the Recovery Act that provide extended COBRA coverage. We extended the time individuals are eligible for unemployment insurance, increased the size of unemployment checks by $25 per week, encouraged states to modernize their unemployment systems, and informed thousands of workers and their families about their rights to receive extended COBRA coverage and reduced premiums.

We are also looking to take preventative measures to keep our workforce safe and healthy. This past spring, the world experienced a very serious situation when we first learned about H1N1 or "swine flu" as it commonly known. The potential for a significant outbreak in the fall is looming. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified specific actions that employers should take to protect workers during an influenza pandemic. Under my leadership, my staff in OSHA will use the full range of the agency's training, education, technical assistance, enforcement, and public outreach programs to help protect all workers, and especially those on the front-line in healthcare.

I along with my fellow Cabinet members are working together in a thoughtful, systematic way, so that we can protect our families, neighbors, friends and co-workers.

In the long run, President Obama has made a commitment to providing quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans. Ultimately, we will work to have a plan in place that reduces and control costs, preserves choice for patients and assures quality and affordable healthcare. We are all aware of the furious debate that is going on around health care reform.

Reform isn't just about the 47 million Americans without health insurance. It's about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay-off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid. We spend $1 of every $6 on health care in America. That's on track to double in the next three decades.

If we do not control costs, we will not be able to control our deficit, insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket, and 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day.

Latinos make up an increasingly substantial part of our nation and our future workforce. Therefore, access to quality, affordable health care is of grave importance for our community.

Unfortunately, much of our community cannot afford health insurance, and they are disconnected from our health care system. Nearly 15 million Latinos in this country are uninsured. 1 in 3 Latinos lack health insurance, and Latino children make up almost 40% of the estimated 8.6 million children in the United States who lack health coverage. Latino immigrants are much more likely to lack health insurance than citizens, and an astounding 58% of non-citizen Latinos are uninsured.

Even though many Latino families are employed, only 40% of Latino workers and their families have employer-sponsored insurance, compared to 66% of White workers. These numbers are unacceptable.

The President recognizes this and is committed to providing everyone in our country with affordable, quality health care. Through SCHIP reform, we lifted the 5-year bar by giving states the option to cover legal, immigrant, pregnant women and children. And the President recognizes the need to address issues of health care, including prevention, for all children.

For those of you who have health insurance, health reform will bring you more security. So, don't let people tell you that somehow we're going to be forcing government-run health care. That is simply not true.

For small business owners in the audience, if you're looking to provide insurance for your employees, you'll be able to choose a plan through this exchange as well. And more often than not, better care produces lower, not higher, expenses, because better care leads to fewer errors that cost money and lives, allowing medical professionals to be free to treat people not just illnesses!

Reform won't be just deficit neutral. it will slow the growth of health care costs and, therefore, the deficit in the future. The cost of inaction is too great for us to stand by with our heads buried in the sand.

We are at a critical impasse in our country. Our nation is facing real challenges, but never has there been more opportunity for change. President Obama and I stand ready to defy the skeptics.

We can, and we will rescue our economy.

We can, and we will rebuild it stronger than before.

And with your help, we can achieve quality, affordable health care para nuestra comunidad and every single American.

Thank you/muchas gracias.

Y si se puede!

 

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