Are we better off than four years ago? Part 3

Yes – President Obama has made government more responsive to the needs of Asian Americans.

Near the end of his administration, President Clinton launched the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with the broad mission of improving the health and well-being of AAPIs.  President Bush let the Initiative lapse after first drastically narrowing its mission to a narrow set of small business owners.  Not only did President Obama revive the Initiative as he promised during his campaign, he expanded the size of the Commission to better reflect the diversity of the AAPI communities, hired an experienced and respected community leader to direct the Initiative and restored its mission to a broad agenda .

As a result, federal agencies are providing – many for the first time – translated materials, hotlines and language assistance in several Asian languages.  Federal agencies are also improving their collection and reporting of data – no longer are Asian Americans dumped in the “other” category.  The Department of Health and Human Services has expanded ethnic level data collection for Asian Americans and the Department of Education has begun the process of expanding its collection of data on the ethnic level.  This is not the kind of work that makes news but it is fundamental to ensuring that underserved groups within the Asian American community get long needed attention and support.

Importantly, federal agencies have intensified their efforts to give Asian American businesses and community service organizations greater access to technical assistance programs, contracts and funding opportunities and have worked to demystify the process.  The level of outreach and engagement is unprecedented and is providing real access to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, contracts and support.

Organizations working to preserve the history of the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII received funding from the Department of Interior.  For the first time, Asian American housing groups received significant funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide counseling and other services to the community.  Through the Recovery Act and the JOBS Act pushed by President Obama, thousands of Asian American businesses received small business loans to support investment and growth.

The outreach to our community over the past four years has been amazing.  Not only is there a greater effort but it is culturally appropriate and geared to including the immigrant parents and business owners in our community who are still learning English.  And it has been in stark contrast to President Bush’s administration when generally only Republican Asian American leaders were welcome at the White House and at many agencies.  Indeed, one Asian American Republican admitted to me that he had been asked for his input more in the first year of the Obama Administration than the entire eight years of the Bush Administration.