WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is identifying five communities that will benefit from a program of tax incentives and government grants, a year after he unveiled the plan in his 2013 State of the Union address.
Obama named the new "Promise Zones" Thursday at a bipartisan White House event. It's an example of administrative action Obama can take without Congress.
Thursday's zones are in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. They're the first of 20 the administration intends to announce over the next three years.
Based in Durant, the Choctaw Nation will create a Promise Zone in an economically challenged area in southeastern Oklahoma and use community groups, businesses and schools to focus on specific education and economic development goals.
Obama says anyone who works hard in the U.S. should have a chance for success.
Among those attending were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who is a frequent Obama critic. McConnell says he supports the designation for eight hard-hit Kentucky counties.
Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory E. Pyle told the Oklahoman this week that the tribe was “blessed to work with many regional, county, municipal, school, and university partners who, along with the Choctaw Nation, believe that great things can occur to lift everyone in Southeastern Oklahoma when we work together.
“This designation will assist ongoing efforts to emphasize small business development and bring economic opportunity to the high-need communities. I am confident that access to the technical assistance and resources offered by the Promise Zone designation will result in better lifestyles for people living and working within the Choctaw Nation.”
Tribal spokeswoman Judy Allen said Tuesday that the tribe's proposed zone includes several Census tracts in Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Choctaw, Haskell, Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain, Pittsburg and Pushmataha counties.
The zone has a poverty rate of 22.6 percent, seven points above the national average, and its median income of $33,500 is well below the national average of $50,000. It has the highest rate of violent crime in the state, and one in five residents has less than a high school education, according to the tribe.