This week Congress will continue to wrestle with the $825 billion economic recovery package that President Barack Obama is insisting is a priority for his administration. The Senate has scheduled a markup of the bill for Tuesday and the House is expected to vote on the package on Wednesday. Already several weeks behind the original timetable the Obama transition team had sketched out, the administration is now pushing to have a bill on the President’s desk prior to the Presidents Day recess.
While President Obama has stressed the importance of reaching bipartisan consensus on the package, differences of opinion on the bill between the two parties surfaced publicly last week. Republicans are balking at the level of direct government spending, charging that the legislation will balloon the federal deficit. GOP lawmakers would also like to see more tax cuts aimed toward business and fewer subsidies for individuals who do not pay taxes. Democrats are pushing for spending on bricks and mortar projects such as highway repair and construction, renovation of school buildings and public housing, and “green” jobs. The majority party is also seeking to aid college students and provide incentives to the private sector to employ young adults and veterans.
The idea behind the so-called “stimulus” is to inject money into the economy quickly to spur job creation, save jobs at risk of elimination due to downsizing, and prompt consumer spending. It became apparent that emergency action was necessary to try to stem the economic slide after half a million jobs were reported loss in both November and December of last year. The poor Christmas holiday shopping season could be a harbinger for a bad January jobs report, due the first week of next month, as the numbers will reflect layoffs among seasonal employees and retail store closures. The administration is hoping the economic recovery package will restore consumer confidence and reassure shaky investors who have been selling off stocks and causing the market to fluctuate wildly, but mostly downward.
One of the most telling outcomes of the recession are the impact on Black Americans; generally faring the worst during this downturn. The last two Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobless reports revealed skyrocketing Black unemployment with Black men and teenagers, age 16 to 19, experiencing the most dramatic negative trends. With rising unemployment and long-term joblessness, the Black community will be particularly hard hit during this recession as personal debt overwhelms individuals and foreclosures spike, as homeowners are unable to keep up mortgage payments. Rampant job losses in the community will also overwhelm the public health system as people lose their health care coverage and turn to public clinics and hospital emergency rooms for treatment. As Congress readies the legislation, the Black community is falling deeper into the economic abyss and the only hope is that government intervention may forestall further job losses.
There are specific elements related to training and employment in the House of Representatives version of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that are of particular importance to the Black community. They include the following provisions.
$100 million for competitive Brownfields grants (under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980). The funds will capitalize revolving funds and provide low-interest loans, job training grants and technical assistance to local governments and non-profit organizations.
$4 billion for Workforce Investment Act Training and Employment Services. It includes $500 million to States for services and adults, $1.2 billion to States for youth activities including summer jobs, and $1 billion to States to provide training and reemployment services to dislocated workers.
Discretionary funding to be distributed through the Employment and Training Administration to include: $500 million for the dislocated workers assistance national reserve to remain available for federal obligation through June 30, 2010; $50 million to expand YouthBuild; $750 million for a new competitive grant program for worker training and placement in high growth and emerging industry sectors; $500 million designated for Green Jobs (jobs that prepare workers for careers in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries); and priority for the remaining $250 million to projects that prepare workers for careers in the health care sector.
$300 million for the construction, rehabilitation, and acquisitions of Job Corps Centers
$30 billion for highway infrastructure investment; for projects and activities eligible under the Surface Transportation, Bridge, Interstate System, National Highway System, Interstate Maintenance, Metropolitan Planning, National Scenic and Recreational Highways, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement.
$6 billion for Transit Capital Assistance; for bus, rail, and related capital investment needed to provide public transportation service and to improve intermodal and transit facilities.
$300 million for capital assistance to Intercity Passenger Rail Service; discretionary grants to states for necessary capital improvements to improve intercity passenger rail service
$5 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund to complete repair and construction projects including critical safety repairs, create jobs for underemployed construction workers, and return funds to local economies
$6 billion for modernization, renovation and repair projects at institutions of higher education; priority consideration will be given to institutions that serve high numbers of minority students, institutions impacted by a major disaster and institutions proposing to improve energy efficiency.
Modification of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to include veterans and disconnected young adults, age 16 to 24, who are out of school and out of work.
$490 million for College Work Study; to support low and moderate income undergraduate and graduate students who work while attending school.