Click photo to enlarge
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., talks with single-mother Jacinda Abcarian of Oakland during a roundtable discussion in San Francisco on Thursday.
SAN FRANCISCO — Working families, especially single working mothers, need immediate help as costs rise, incomes stagnate and the economy stumbles, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Thursday in pitching a relief plan.

"The bottom line is this: If we make better choices in Washington, if we're pushing back on the special interests in Washington, there's no reason we can't restore more balance to our economy and give families more of the support that they need," he said. "We can't keep on talking about family values and then not observe them in the decisions we make in Washington."

The junior U.S. senator from Illinois hosted a roundtable at the Women's Building, a community center on 18th Street in the Mission District, on how the economic downturn affects families, and his plan to ease working families' tax burden while balancing work and family demands.

Jacinda Abcarian of Oakland, executive director of Youth Radio; Kara Daillik, a San Francisco teacher; Serina Rankins of Vallejo, a paralegal with the East Bay Community Law Center; and Serena Kirk, a Sacramento policy analyst, huddled around a small table with the candidate as dozens of journalists looked on.

Each described how her income barely covers her sky-high mortgage or rental payments and child care costs, leaving little money for anything else.


Advertisement

Abcarian, a mother of two, said she makes just a bit too much to qualify for any rental subsidy, and relies on her elderly parents to raise her children while she works because she can't afford child care. "I'm wearing out the welcome," she said grimly.

"The whole theory about grandparenting is you can give them back," Obama agreed.

Kirk, whose son is 4, said she's "doing well but still facing the struggles of every day. ... Most working families of single income don't have the luxury of saving much for retirement, of saving for their children's future." She said she pays about $10,000 per year for child care and about $12,000 per year in rent: "It's just not a feasible option to be able to buy a home in Northern California at this point."

Obama said, "Right now, in Washington at least, your voices are not being heard." He said the federal tax code is riddled with "a trillion (dollars) worth of corporate loopholes and tax breaks while the burden on American families has never been higher."

Obama calls for giving every middle-class American a $500 "Making Work Pay" tax credit to offset the first $500 of payroll tax they pay, or $1,000 per working family. This refundable credit would benefit 150 million working Americans, including more than

70 million working women, he says, with 10 million people no longer paying any income taxes. He also would eliminate all income taxes for retired seniors making less than $50,000 per year.

He also proposes expanding the child and dependent care tax credit, now offsetting up to 35 percent of the first $3,000 of child care expenses a family incurs for one child or the first $6,000 for a family with two or more children. But the credit is not refundable, and families with incomes under $15,000 generally owe little or no income tax, so the theoretical maximum rarely applies in practice. This means upper-income families benefit disproportionately while families making less than $50,000 per year get less than a third of the credit.

With child care costs "particularly onerous here in California and in urban areas," Obama said, he would make the credit refundable and let low-income families get up to a 50 percent credit.

He wants to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act so it applies to all companies with 25 or more employees, rather than the current 50-and-up floor, so workers can take leave for elder-care needs; so parents can have up to 24 hours of leave per year to take part in their children's school activities; so people can take leave to care for people living in their home for six months or more; and to cover leave for employees to address domestic violence or sexual assault against them, their children or their parents. 

He says he'll encourage states to follow California's lead in adopting paid family leave, require that employers provide seven paid sick days per year, enforce new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines on discrimination against family caregivers, urge businesses to adopt flexible work arrangements for working parents, and expand high-quality after-school programs for children of working parents.

"The price of the American dream has gone up," he said, and his plan will help "to reclaim the American dream for working Americans, but particularly for working women in this country who are facing uncertainty."

Obama had held a roundtable Wednesday in a Van Nuys home on the mortgage foreclosure crisis. "Regulating the mortgage industry and helping families stay in their homes is obviously something that's going to be critical," he noted Thursday.

His presence in California, even as he strives to prevail in the Nevada caucuses Saturday and South Carolina's primary a week later, underscores the Golden State's vital role in the "Tsunami Tuesday" Feb. 5 primaries. The state could make or break his bid for the Democratic nomination.

So Obama last Saturday became this election's first Democratic candidate to air an ad in California's costly television markets. On Sunday he opened campaign offices in San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Ana, and San Bernardino to complement those already open in Oakland, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego. His campaign has been hard at work recruiting and training precinct captains — many of whom will hold house parties this Sunday — to mobilize voters.

Read the Political Blotter at http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics.