Today I inquired of Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin–Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee–why he instructed the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services to deny my request for funding for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Adult Education Program.
Chairman Obey angrily replied, “I am not going to fund your request because you are attempting to circumvent my rule not to fund any project named after a Member.”
I originally requested $1 million for job training programs provided by the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center (MWEPC), and I explained to Chairman Obey–as I have on many previous occasions–that the MWEPC is an official school within the LAUSD and that it serves the poorest part of my district, in fact one of the poorest communities in California if not the nation.
In addition, I explained that if Chairman Obey’s intent is to deny funds to Representatives who have used their position to name projects for themselves so as to further their political goals, that this was not the case for me: I emphasized that the school was named for me in 1989, prior to my becoming a Member of Congress.
The Watts community of Los Angeles where the MWEPC is located is one of the poorest areas in the United States. According to the 2000 census, median household income there was only $19,419, per capita income was only $6,720, unemployment was 48%, and nearly 65% of people over 25 have no high school or equivalent degree.
I have therefore worked hard to bring vocational and alternative education to Watts since my time in the California State Assembly. The MWEPC offers academic and career training programs to more than 9,000 people annually who desire to advance their education to improve their job prospects. By increasing the number of capable workers, it bolsters the local economy, particularly locally owned small businesses.
This school serves dropouts returning to school, poor families, and individuals seeking career development through vocational education in areas such as nursing, banking, and automotive mechanics. This specific request would fund programs for students interested in small business development and entrepreneurship.
At a time when unemployment in California and nationally is at record highs, and the recession is more like a depression for the Black and Latino residents of Watts, it seems we would want to fund and support a successful program like the MWEPC, which is a national model for employment training opportunities.
The MWEPC is certainly not a pet project, or even a private organization. The request to fund it is by no means linked to any campaign contribution. Far from being a “monument to me”, the MWEPC is a public school within the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Los Angeles Unified School District would be the direct recipient of the funding.
Following Chairman Obey’s earlier decision not to provide funding that I had requested for the MWEPC, I instead requested funding for the Adult Education Program of LAUSD, which would have discretion to apply the funds to job training programs it determined most appropriate. Chairman Obey decided to reject this request as well.
In my conversation with Chairman Obey, I tried to impress upon him the contradictions in an earmark process that funds projects and programs for private, affluent schools and other private, well-heeled organizations but denies requests for a successful public school program in such an impoverished community, particularly in these distressed economic times.
Chairman Obey was angry, and shouted that he didn’t care about my plea. He was absolutely clear that he wouldn’t fund the LAUSD Adult Education Program or the MWEPC, and an angry exchange ensued between us. This confrontation between us was further exacerbated when I noted that one Republican member from a much more affluent district received approval in the same committee markup for a funding request similar in amount to mine.
I will continue to advocate for what is right and fair for both my district and the country. The earmark process is arbitrary and favors projects advanced by high-paid lobbyists, and this is a prime example of how the system often works against the well-being of the poorest and neediest people in our country.