State of the Union 2015: Free Community College, Paid Sick Leave, and Open Relations with Cuba


photo courtesy of ibtimes

U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the economy, funding two years of  free community college for students, creating greater safeguards for the internet, new opens relations with Cuba, the dangers of climate change, and proposed paid sick leave for U.S. workers, during his sixth State of the Union Address, Tuesday, January 20 in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.

President Barack Obama began his speech indicating that the U.S. unemployment rate is lower than ever before, more high school students  are graduating, we are free from the grip of foreign oil, and only 15,000 American troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” said Obama after describing some of the hardships America has endured.

On the topic of his plan to make sick leave available to all Americans the President stated, “Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that does guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”

“Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

About 40 million workers, most of whom work part-time or in lower-wage jobs, do not currently earn paid sick leave, according to NPR. “But state and local laws have been gaining ground since San Francisco mandated paid sick leave in 2006. Since then, 15 more cities and three states have passed similar measures,”added NPR.

Obama also announced his plan is to make two years of community college free and to help those that have taken out student loans to reduce their monthly payments. In order to raise 320 billion dollars to pay for the plan,the President proposed ending a key tax break on state 529 college savings plans currently used by upper income Americans, according to

On the topic of foreign policy, Obama stated that plans with Cuba are underway to create a peaceful friendship, as the president said,”When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, its time to try something new.”

The U.S.-Cuba relationship has its roots in the Cold War, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1959, Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries seized power in Havana and instituted their communist political ideology. The U.S. then instituted a ban on nearly all exports to Cuba, which President John F. Kennedy expanded into a full economic embargo that included ” stringent travel restrictions.”

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.  Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas,” stated President Obama in his statement on Cuban Policy Change from the Cabinet Room on December 17, 2014.

On the subject of national internet security, the President stated in his speech, stating, “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism.” He also indicated plans to expand connections nationally  to the internet and make sure ” it reaches everyone who needs it.”

Obama also touched on the subject of climate change, naming humans activities as the cause, and stating that 2014 and 15 are the warmest recorded years. He also stated that the Pentagon has stated that climate change is a risk to national security.

The speech wasn’t all serious though. Obama said that instead of just visiting outer space we plan on staying there. ” Now one of the men going on this mission, Scott Kelly, will be staying in space for a year. He joked and said, “Good luck, Captain — and make sure to Instagram it.” After moving from his prepared speech and stating, “I have no more campaigns to run,” he was interrupted by applause and then added, “I know ’cause I won both of them.”

The President ended his speech on a conciliatory note, “My fellow Americans, we, too, are a strong, tight-knit family.  We, too, have made it through some hard times.  Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America.  We have laid a new foundation.  A brighter future is ours to write.  Let’s begin this new chapter together — and let’s start the work right now.”