President Barack Obama will aim to encourage civic engagement and use of technology to solve problems, like helping poor families get diapers for their children, when he appears at an annual tech festival in Austin, Texas. Obama's appearance Friday at South by Southwest Interactive will be the first by a sitting U.S. president.
A technology lover who arranged to keep using his BlackBerry in the office and is often seen using an iPad, Obama wants to talk about how the administration is using technology to help make people's lives better, including by overhauling the government's online processing, simplifying federal application forms and increasing access to government data.
He'll also ask the creative types in attendance to help solve problems, like getting more people to participate in the political process and countering the effects of climate change.
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One example Obama likely will cite is a White House-backed effort in which online retailers, manufacturers and nonprofits have come together to help poor families get an important baby necessity: diapers. One in three U.S. families doesn't have access to the diapers they need for their children for reasons as varied as lack of access to smartphones and high-speed Internet to buy them in bulk online at a discount or simply not having enough money for an in-store purchase, the White House says.
Spurred by the administration, the Jet e-commerce company, which sells and ships diapers, and First Quality, maker of the Cuties brand of diapers, created a program that will allow any nonprofit organization to buy diapers at a cost up to 25 percent cheaper than current prices, with no required minimum order and two-day shipping.
As a result, member organizations in a nationwide diaper bank are expected to order more than 15 million diapers through the program this year, according to White House estimates. These groups provide diapers to the mothers and babies they serve.
"When you have a baby, diapers are a necessity. They are not optional," Cecilia Munoz, the president's domestic policy adviser, wrote in an online post. "Addressing the high cost of diapers for low-income families can help to take one more burden off those families as they strive to reach the middle class, and give the next generation the great start in life that all kids deserve."
Obama's proposed budget for 2017 calls for spending $10 million to test different methods of getting diapers to needy families.
South by Southwest Interactive is part of South by Southwest, a movie, music and interactive media festival held in Austin for the past 30 years.
Obama is also scheduled to headline Democratic fundraisers while in Austin.