WASHINGTON — Leaders of the largest and oldest black civil rights groups said they urged President Barack Obama in a White House meeting last week to resist deep cuts to programs that benefit urban communities — with some of the highest unemployment rates — as he negotiates the nation’s debt limit.
NAACP president Benjamin Jealous and National Urban League president Marc Morial said they left the Oval Office feeling assured Obama understands deep budget cuts to safety net programs such as Social Security or Medicaid would be counterproductive to the country and poorer communities.
“Everybody in this country is prepared to accept some form of compromise. But it cannot be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society,” Jealous said. “We were assured today the president does not intend to let that happen and we are very pleased with that.”
Unemployment has hit 16.2 percent among blacks and is at 11.6 percent among Hispanics. Overall, the unemployment rate was at 9.2 percent last month.
Many minority lawmakers and groups in Congress have called on the administration to focus economic recovery programs on the high unemployment rates in minority communities.
The Congressional Black Caucus recently held a summit on black unemployment where some questioned whether the administration’s broad-based programs were helping black and other minority workers.
Meanwhile the deficit is growing by about $1 trillion a year and is now at $14.3 trillion. The White House and Congress are facing an Aug. 2 deadline to negotiate spending reductions.
Morial said he and Jealous shared their ideas with Obama for resolving high unemployment in the black community.
The leaders say Obama indicated he was willing to consider some of them and he assured them he will turn back to jobs, job creation and employment discrimination when done with the debt crisis.
But they worry about the outcome of the negotiations over allowing the president to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts next month.
“We emphasized that no steps should be taken that’s gonna cost this nation jobs. No steps should be taken that’s gonna force vulnerable Americans to pay the cost of a debt-reduction plan,” Morial said of the meeting. He said the president “nodded his head” in response.
The leaders were reluctant to discuss comments by Obama during the meeting.
Earlier White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president was holding the meeting to emphasize that deficits and debt have to be addressed in a way that does not unfairly burden any segment of society.
He also said the meeting would help make clear to progressives “we have to get our debt and deficit under control in order to allow us to invest in the areas that are essential to create jobs, to grow the economy and to allow us to maintain the kind of benefits that protect the vulnerable among us.”
Morial said “countervailing forces” want to “turn back the hands of time ... to some distant past period” with their debt-reduction proposals.
Cutting into programs such as Social Security — the sole income for more than 40 percent of black people in the country — is like “making one of your children skip lunch while everyone else eats because your household budget has been reduced versus asking everybody to share the pain,” he said.