The Faces of Obama's First Year

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During his first year in office, President Obama highlighted his initiatives by talking about the troubles of everyday Americans whose lives he wanted to change for the better. As he begins his second term, some of the faces of the president's policies share a glimpse of their lives four years later and their hopes for his second term.

ED NEUFELDT of Elkhart, Ind.

Even though he admits to voting for the other guy – twice – Ed Neufeldt will not deny that his town is better off than it was four years ago.

"We had a bunch of empty buildings all over town, but they're filled up again," he said. "Most of my friends are back to work."

Much has changed since Mr. Neufeldt introduced President Obama before an August 2009 speech at Monaco Coach, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles that laid him off after 32 years. Once called "the R.V. capital of the world," Elkhart was experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the country after sales began to plummet throughout the automotive industry.

Though he was offered his job back, Mr. Neufeldt instead was hired by a company to speak to businesses about green energy and biofuels.

"They thought we'd be the electric car capital of the world," he said.

The company is now gone, and with it his spokesman job. He now delivers bread and cleans office buildings part time. But part time, he says, is better than no time.

-- Jada F. Smith

PAUL MONTI of Raynham, Mass.

Less than three months after Sgt. First Class Jared C. Monti received the Medal of Honor for the courage he demonstrated during the firefight in Afghanistan that took his life, President Obama announced his plan to send another 30,000 troops there as part of the surge. For Sergeant Monti's father, Paul, there was no question that it was the right thing to do.

But the mission in Afghanistan has changed, Mr. Monti said. He supports Mr. Obama's decision to draw down United States forces over the next two years.

"We've lost enough," he said.

When asked about his hopes for the president's second term, Mr. Monti grew quiet for a moment before expressing his deep frustration with Congress, so gridlocked, he said, that some legislation doesn't even make it to a vote.

"That just sticks really badly with me, because that's what my son died for," he said. "He died for this type of government we have."

-- Emmarie Huetteman

RILEEN SECREST of Martinsville, Va.

When President Obama took the first step toward expanding health care coverage by reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program in February 2009, Gregory Secrest of Martinsville, Va., was there with his sons, who benefited from CHIP after he lost his job.

"Neither one of us had health insurance, but we had to be sure the kids were taken care of," said Rileen Secrest, his wife.

Three years later, Mr. Secrest, 43, died of a heart attack, employed again but still uninsured.

Jobless in the county with Virginia's highest unemployment rate, Mr. Secrest earned a business degree in 2011 from a community college and found a job as an assistant manager at a restaurant. It didn't offer health insurance, and although Ms. Secrest thought her husband was healthy, they worried about what could happen, she said.

Ms. Secrest said that her husband's older son joined the Marines, which offers health insurance, and that she thought his younger son was still covered by CHIP. But she is still uninsured and worries about health care and unemployment.

-- Emmarie Huetteman


With the specter of empty Maytag factories still looming, the town of Newton, Iowa, welcomed President Obama with cautious hope in April 2009. Trinity Structural Towers, which builds parts for wind turbines, had moved in and started hiring. Richard Mulbrook, who had worked for Maytag and been hired by Trinity, introduced the president's speech about energy policy.

Like others in the renewable energy business, Trinity benefited from government support, and Mr. Mulbrook, who now works for another company after two years at Trinity, said it felt as if the subsidies helped.

But Trinity hired only a fraction of the former Maytag work force and, like the rest of the wind industry, faces an uncertain market. Mr. Mulbrook said the town had not fully recovered, with many houses still on the market and people commuting to jobs outside Newton. But he remains hopeful that Mr. Obama can repair the damage.

"It's just going to take time to get the economy back going, but I'm pretty sure he can do it," he said.

-- Emmarie Huetteman

MAXINE GIVEN of Baltimore

The White House invited Maxine Given to meet President Obama in October 2009 after she sued M&T Bank over its overdraft policy.

Mrs. Given, was overdrawn twice in 18 months and paid $370 in overdraft fees. A visit to the local branch resulted in some of the fees being reversed, but Mrs. Given said the situation left her flustered.

Her lawsuit, which is now part of a larger class-action suit, said that she could have avoided the fees if the bank had processed her transactions in the order they were made, instead of from largest to smallest, a common industry practice at the time that critics derided as a scheme to trigger more fees.

Mrs. Given said she supported the consumer protections enacted under Mr. Obama and would like to see him do more on behalf of "regular Americans."

"They're really necessary because you have to give people knowledge about the financial agreements they're getting into and a voice against big financial institutions," she said.

-- Ashley Southall

SUSAN CHAPMAN of Staten Island, N.Y.

Susan Chapman was struggling to undo a bad mortgage in October 2009 when she met President Obama, who at the time was calling for the creation of an agency to protect consumers from predatory financial practices. She had been trying to get a loan modification for two years, but was turned down for the third time two days earlier.

Hours after Ms. Chapman met with the president, she was approved for a trial modification.

"I absolutely believe it was because of the president that I was able to keep my house," she said.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed in 2011. But to Ms. Chapman's chagrin, the Senate has not confirmed its director because Republicans say the agency encroaches on the free market.

"We have free enterprise here, but at some point, you have to look out for the people," she said.

-- Ashley Southall

JOE INCARNATO of Landover, Md.

Joe Incarnato introduced and hosted President Obama's October, 2009 speech on small business initiatives, having purchased half of the building that houses his company with the help of a small business loan.

Mr. Incarnato's business, Metropolitan Archives, a records storage company in Maryland, was one that Mr. Obama said would benefit if the Small Business Administration could lend more than $2 million to businesses under its 504 loan program. It provides small companies with loans to buy assets for expansion or modernization.

Since Congress approved expanding the lending authority for the 504 program to $5.5 million, Mr. Incarnato is considering an S.B.A. loan to finance the purchase of the rest of the space.

"We're fortunate enough that our business is continuing to grow, so we're in a position where we can utilize more space," he said.

Going forward, he said he wanted the persistent gridlock gripping the Capitol to end.

"There's a lot of indicators that say the economy is turning in the right direction," he said. "Why can't these guys get together and try to move the country forward?"

-- Ashley Southall


When Christine Lardner became fed up with Chase Bank's refusal to reverse a fee and interest rate increase triggered by a mistaken charge that put her credit card balance over the limit, she expressed her frustration in an e-mail to President Obama.

She introduced Mr. Obama when he came to her hometown in May 2009 to push the Credit Card Act, which included a bill of rights for credit card users, and sat with Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address in 2010.

After Mrs. Lardner appeared with Mr. Obama, the bank reversed the fee and returned her interest rate to 6.5 percent from 21 percent. It had jumped after her daughter's school accidentally charged a tuition payment to her credit card.

Mrs. Lardner said she hoped the economy would continue to improve in Mr. Obama's second term.

"I just look at the number of people without jobs and really hope that there's some kind of recovery there," she said.

-- Ashley Southall

MONA MANGAT, of St. Petersburg, Fla.

When Dr. Mona Mangat traveled the country with Doctors for America promoting President Obama's health care plan, "I would get booed and jeered and made fun of," she said. "Now, I did a health care panel for what doctors see coming down the pipeline and not one person had anything negative to say."

Her advocacy caught the attention of the White House in October 2009, when she was invited to stand with Mr. Obama as he promoted solidarity between his administration and health care professionals on the law's proposals.

Even though she is excited about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Dr. Mangat has seen the political process up close now and knows that the fight is far from over. The next step in Florida is setting up an insurance exchange under the Republican governor.

"Actually we're very insistent that our state not create an exchange, because they have been dragging their feet for several years now," she said. Instead she wants the federal government to run their health care market.

-- Jada F. Smith

NATHAN WILKES, of Englewood, Colo.

After Nathan Wilkes's son, Thomas, was born with hemophilia, his insurance coverage quickly reached its $1 million cap, leaving him virtually uninsured and on the hook for thousands of out-of-pocket expenses. The cost for his care became so exorbitant that a social worker recommended that he and his wife divorce so she could qualify for Medicaid.

Mr. Wilkes shared his story while introducing President Obama at a town-hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., in August 2009. Though struggles with insurance companies have barely subsided since the passage of the health care law, Mr. Wilkes says it has been crucial in the battle for Thomas's health coverage, especially with the elimination of lifetime caps on benefits.

"His standard care is usually closer to a million a year and will never change, so that was huge for us," he said.

Mr. Wilkes was appointed to the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Board in 2011. They hope to run pilots this summer and begin the early enrollment process by October.

-- Jada F. Smith

Kitty Bennett contributed research.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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