Since the 1992 campaign, President Clinton and Vice President Gore have traveled the country, meeting with people from distressed inner cities and the rural heartland to learn about what they need to rebuild their communities and their homes. They have heard from people who live in neighborhoods where the fear of crime pervades everyday life. They have visited with those in rural communities who fight a constant battle of making ends meet and keeping their families together. They have witnessed firsthand the deterioration of many of the country's communities, despite the best intentions and the expenditure of billions of dollars in past federal aid.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore promised the American people they would address these issues if they were elected. When they took office, they made a commitment to restore to residents of distressed inner cities and the rural heartland a sense of community, opportunity, and hope. They have made significant progress in reaching these goals. Under President Clinton's leadership, this Administration has turned the economy around, creating four million new jobs and passing the largest deficit-cutting plan in history, including tax cuts for 90 percent of this country's small businesses. The first piece of legislation President Clinton signed into law was the Family and Medical Leave Act so that parents can take unpaid leave from work and not worry about losing their job if a child or a loved one is ill or seriously injured. Because of his deep concern for rising crime and violence, President Clinton led the fight to pass a $30 billion crime bill that puts additional police on our streets, increases funding for crime prevention programs, and bans certain types of assault weapons.
In addition to these efforts, President Clinton has initiated a comprehensive plan to rebuild and revitalize distressed regions across this nation -- the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community program. Designed to inspire Americans to work together to create from the bottom up new jobs and opportunities, the Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community program focuses on both economic growth and development of sustainable communities through expanded cooperation among the public and private sectors and the residents of the communities. It adopts a new approach to community redevelopment -- an approach that appreciates that communities have different needs, strengths, and solutions, all of which must be identified and built upon in this effort.
This program authorizes the federal government to designate up to 104 communities that meet certain poverty and distress criteria and that have prepared strategic plans for revitalization. Specifically, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development will designate up to six urban Empowerment Zones and 65 Enterprise Communities, and the Secretary of Agriculture will designate up to three Empowerment Zones and 30 Enterprise Communities. All designations will be made in consultation with the Community Enterprise Board, which is chaired by the Vice President. Designated communities will receive federal grant funds and substantial tax benefits and will have access to other federal programs.
The application process for the program began on January 17, 1994, and ended on June 30, 1994. The response to the program was overwhelming: HUD and USDA received more than 500 applications for the 104 Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community designations. Moreover, the program has already proven to be a success in a number of significant ways.
For example, through the existence of its common goal of empowerment, the program has brought together for the first time diverse groups such as local political and governmental leaders, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and community groups -- partnerships that will last long into the future. The effort also has inspired many communities to approach community redevelopment in a new way -- through a holistic approach. Finally, this effort has reinvented the relationship between governmental entities and local communities. Many community residents report that their state and local governments have conferred upon neighborhood groups and community residents the authority and the tools to rebuild their own communities. In short, the program has achieved its goals to increase cooperation, inspire innovation, contribute to reinventing government, and empower citizens and communities.
The Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Community program already is on its way to rebuilding and revitalizing distressed communities and empowering their residents. It will do nothing less than help to create communities where the streets are safe, the air and water are clean, housing is secure, human services are accessible, learning is a lifelong commitment, and civic spirits are nurtured. The federal government -- working cooperatively through this program with state and local governments, the private sector, and the communities -- will provide the tools necessary to help our inner cities and the rural heartland once again become sources of economic prosperity, culture, and hope.