Support the American Jobs Act
Advocacy Letter - 09/14/11
Source: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Recipient: Members of Congress
Dear Member of Congress:
On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, we write to express our support for the American Jobs Act, as proposed by President Obama last week. The American Jobs Act contains a number of strong, bipartisan proposals that will help reduce unemployment in the short term, and put our nation on a more solid economic footing in the long term. Congress should quickly move forward with its consideration.
Like all Americans, the communities that we represent hoped that our nation’s economic troubles would be behind us by now. Sadly, there remain few encouraging signs of a recovery. In August, the unemployment rate for African Americans and Hispanics stood at 16.7 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively – both well above the national average. Young Americans and those without a high school diploma also continue to struggle far more than other groups of Americans.
Our nation’s persistent unemployment problem is made worse by the lasting impact of a crisis in the housing and banking industry, caused largely by virtually non-existent enforcement of consumer protection and financial regulatory laws, which has devastated minority and low-income communities. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the financial crisis has resulted in losses of $194 billion in the African-American community and $177 billion the Latino community, due in large part to predatory and even unlawful practices in the mortgage lending and servicing industries.
President Obama’s proposal contains many commonsense, bipartisan, cost-efficient, and – most important of all – effective provisions that will help Americans get back on their feet, revitalize our nation’s economy, and get Americans back to work. We are particularly supportive of the following aspects of the bill:
Investments in infrastructure: The American Jobs Act provides $50 billion to invest in badly-needed highway, airport, and rail system improvements, $30 billion to modernize public schools and community colleges, and funding to expand wireless internet services. These types of investments strike an ideal balance between short-term and long-term benefits. The plan would also establish a National Infrastructure Bank, to improve the funding mechanism for additional projects.
Prevention of Layoffs of Police Officers, Firefighters, and Teachers: In recent years, due to ongoing state budget cuts, teachers and first responders have been in particular danger of layoffs. The plan would provide $35 billion to keep some of our most important public servants at their jobs. It would also provide new tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans, particularly those who face disabilities as a result of their service to our country.
Help for Low-Income Youth and Adults: The plan would invest $5 billion in programs that would build on successful components of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, providing low-income Americans with immediate work opportunities that will leave them with lasting experience.
Extension of Unemployment Insurance: The plan would ensure that Americans who are desperately seeking work are still able to meet basic needs for themselves and their families, and would prohibit discrimination against unemployed workers. It would also provide for more robust reemployment services, including face to face counseling, for the long-term unemployed. We do have concerns about reforms based on the “Georgia Works” program, however, which relate to wage levels, employment protections, displacement, and the danger of turning the unemployment insurance system into a work-fare program.
Help to Rebuild the Housing Market: As President Obama pointed out last week, mortgage rates are at a historic low. His proposal to encourage mortgage refinancing will help keep more borrowers in their homes, and help inject more money back into the economy in the process. At the same time, the plan would provide $15 billion to continue cleaning up the ongoing damage to communities caused by the housing crisis, providing additional badly-needed jobs at the same time.
According to an estimate already released by Moodys.com economist Mark Zandi, the proposals contained in the American Jobs Act would likely add 1.9 million jobs to our economy, reduce unemployment by approximately one percent, and increase GDP by two percent within the next year. 1 The success of the bill, however, could be drastically affected – for better or worse – depending on how Congress moves forward with its consideration. We offer two caveats:
First, the bill must be paid for by increased revenues, not by entitlement cuts that would place the burden on people who can least afford it. Notwithstanding the pre-election pledges that some Members have made to special interest groups, Congress must face the fact that sensible, targeted revenue increases are an absolutely necessary part of balancing the budget and restoring an economy in which job growth can take place. Cuts to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, on the other hand, will jeopardize the health and economic security of millions of Americans, will keep the economy from getting back on track, and will place an even heavier burden on states that are already struggling to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction must eliminate wasteful and unfair tax giveaways including Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires, tax breaks for multinational corporations that offshore jobs, and loopholes for private equity and hedge fund managers.
Second, Congress must consider additional measures to make it easier for employers to put Americans back to work, in addition to the ones outlined in the American Jobs Act. We agree with President Obama that the ideas of both parties must be open to discussion.
For example, we urge you to take additional steps to address the continuing problems in our nation’s housing market. Rampant foreclosures and unemployment go hand in hand, particularly in industries tied into the housing and real estate sector. We are pleased that the Administration recently directed mortgage servicers to extend relief for unemployed homeowners in mortgages under the FHA and HAMP programs, but we fear that the number of families helped will be small. This is partly because such relief is purely at the discretion of the lender. It would help if the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac directed them to provide similar relief. But more importantly, Congress should give deserving homeowners more leverage, through a minor change to bankruptcy law, when mortgage servicers are either unable or unwilling to work with them.2
One idea that must be rejected out of hand, however, is any effort to hamstring the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Some in Congress are seeking to do just this, apparently under the belief that regulation is inherently harmful to job growth. Given the strong relationship between recent lending practices and current unemployment, however, and given the abysmal failure of other regulators to provide meaningful oversight in the past, any attempt to weaken the CFPB would be the height of irresponsibility. It would also be grossly premature, in nature as the CFPB is far too new to have a detrimental impact on hiring, meaning the concerns that some have raised are purely theoretical – and to date, the CFPB has shown every intention of working with financial services providers to protect consumers, instead of against them.
In closing, we urge you to move forward with your consideration of the American Jobs Act as soon as possible. Thank you.
President & CEO
Executive Vice President
1 “Moody’s: Obama plan will add 1.9M jobs,” Politico.com, Sept. 9, 2011, at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/63069.html.
2 See, e.g., the Chabot-Conyers substitute to H.R. 3609, the “Emergency Home Ownership and Mortgage Equity Protection Act” (110th Cong.).