Two people Donald Trump invited to his State of the Union address have little to do with the policies that he brought them there to amplify.

A Philadelphia fourth grader was surprised with a scholarship after the president highlighted his administration’s attempts to rescue students “trapped in failing government schools” with $5bn (£3.8bn) in federal tax credits for contributions to scholarship programmes. But Janiyah Davis already attends a sought-after tuition-free charter school and previously attended a $5,200-a-year private school.

The president invited a formerly homeless veteran to tout the success of a programme that provides tax breaks to companies hiring in poor neighbourhoods. But Tony Rankins doesn’t work at a site taking advantage of the breaks and never has done so, according to the Associated Press.

Critics have criticised the president for relying on his two guests to manipulate support for significant tax breaks for wealthy people that would support his signature proposals.

At his State of the Union address, the president said: “After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house and his family. He was homeless. But then Tony found a construction company that invests in Opportunity Zones … He is now a top tradesman, drug-free, reunited with his family.”


A few days later, the president spoke at the Opportunity Now summit in North Carolina to sing the programme’s success, even inviting Mr Rankins to that event as well.

Mr Trump said: “One of the Americans benefitting from this gusher of new investment is a man who became very famous the other night because I introduced him during the State of the Union: Army veteran Tony Rankins of Cincinnati, Ohio. … After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house, his family. And he was homeless. He lost everything. But then Tony found a construction company that does work in Opportunity Zones. And the company saw Tony’s great skill and talent.”

Mr Rankins thanked the president for signing the legislation, saying that “without it, I wouldn’t be standing here before you right now”.

The president said that the construction business where Mr Rankins is employed “is working to help 200 people rise out of homelessness every year by investing in the Opportunity Zones”.

Mr Rankins started a job four months before the US Treasury Department listed eligible neighbourhoods. He’s currently working at a site that is eligible for Opportunity Zone credits but has not used them, the Associated Press reports.

Travis Steffans, the CEO of the company that Mr Rankins works for, said the tax break that has routinely helped him employ people like Mr Rankins was passed in 1996 under then-president Bill Clinton.

The Opportunity Zone program, part of the president’s 2017 tax package, offers developers significant tax savings if they work in 8,000 designated poor neighbourhoods. But critics warn that the programme stands only to benefit wealthy developers while fuelling gentrification and pushing out the black families that the president said would benefit most from the programme.

Mr Trump’s “school choice” proposal provides up to $5 billion in federal tax credits to effectively use taxpayer money to support private school education, without adjusting a budget for public schools, largely attended by more students from lower-income families than private schools that require significant tuition fees. 

Janiyah’s mother Stephanie Davis told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she doesn’t view her daughter’s current school  “as a school you want to get out of at all. I view it as a great opportunity”.



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