Obama to Combat Poverty in Five 'Promise Zones' Through Tax Incentives, Grants

By Melanie Arter | January 9, 2014 | 7:41 PM EST

President Barack Obama speaks about his Promise Zones Initiative, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that he has selected the first set of “Promise Zones,” economically challenged communities that will receive tax incentives and grants to combat poverty through education, increased access to housing and  crime reduction.

The president unveiled the initiative last year during his State of the Union address, but has just now designated specific areas as “Promise Zones” – San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who announced an economic revitalization program of his own last month, called economic freedom zones, was on hand at the president’s press conference.

In a keynote address on Dec. 6, 2013, at the Detroit Economic Club, Paul said there were 29 counties in the eastern part of his home state that were in a depression.

Community leaders from all five of the president's designated "Promise Zones" were on hand at the White House press conference Thursday.

"In the east side neighborhood of San Antonio, nearly four in 10 adults don’t have a high school diploma. The violent crime rate is 50 percent higher than the rest of the city, so schools and community members are focused on getting more kids into pre-K, boosting math and science in high school, and they’re putting more cops on foot patrol to make their neighborhood safer," said Obama.

In a section of Los Angeles, "the population by 13,000 in just 10 years, so developers are working to build more affordable housing," the president said.

"In Philly,nearly four out every 10 kids lives below the poverty line, and a lot of them are on the west side of the city, so local university’s helping connect middle and high school students with mentors to get them ready for college," Obama said. And a supermarket planned for the city "will create jobs and provide healthy food where there’s been too little of both."

In Kentucky, "There are communities that have been struggling for decades with shutdowns and layoffs, so they’re taking steps locally initiated to attract new businesses and create new jobs in new industries. You’ve got a local college that’s stepping up to expand technical training and help more kids to get a higher education," he added.

"In the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, where up to half of the residents in some areas live in poverty, community leaders are determined to change things, and they’re making financing available to help women start their own businesses," Obama said.

"They're investing in new water and sewer systems that will make the area more attractive for companies looking to locate there. And they're helping farmers and ranchers create more jobs, and more families thereby get access to healthy foods," he said.

The president said there will be 20 economic zones in all over the next three years.

"We will help them succeed, not with a handout, but as partners with them every step of the way," Obama said, and each community will be held "accountable to make sure it is making a difference in the lives of kids."