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The American Jobs Act: Putting Workers Back On the Job

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This weekend President Obama called on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act via his weekly address (below). He highlighted how the proposals will create needed jobs rebuilding and modernizing America and keep first responders on the job and teachers in the classroom. The President’s plan will put Americans back to work in key areas that are central to America’s future competitiveness. It wil repair and modernize classrooms across the country and make sure that teachers who have been laid off because of budget cuts can be brought back to work. It will take on the fact that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) awarded the United States a ‘D’ for the overall condition of its infrastructure. Both to modernize the nation’s roads, railways, airports and schools and to put hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job, the President is proposing a strategy that combines immediate investments in infrastructure with innovative reforms to ensure that the best projects get financing. These investments in infrastructure would not only put people to work now, but also yield lasting benefits for the economy, increasing growth in the long run.

Key elements of his proposal are:

  • A “Returning Heroes” hiring tax credit for veterans: This provides tax credits from $5,600 to $9,600 to encourage the hiring of unemployed veterans.
  • Preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs, while keeping cops and firefighters on the job.
  • Modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country, supporting new science labs, Internet-ready classrooms and renovations at schools across the country, in rural and urban areas.
  • Immediate investments in infrastructure and a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank, modernizing our roads, rail, airports and waterways while putting hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job.
  • A New “Project Rebuild”, which will put people to work rehabilitating homes, businesses and communities, leveraging private capital and scaling land banks and other public-private collaborations.
  • Expanding access to high-speed wireless as part of a plan for freeing up the nation’s spectrum.

The new Returning Heroes Tax Credit will provid up to $5,600 for veterans who have been unemployed six months or longer, and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit of up to $9,600 that will increase the existing tax credit for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed six months or longer.

As many as 280,000 education jobs are on the chopping block in the upcoming school year due to continued state budget constraints. These cuts could have a significant impact on children’s education, through the reduction of school days, increased class size, and the elimination of key classes and services. The President’s plan will support state and local efforts to retain, rehire, and hireearly childhood, elementary, and secondary educators (including teachers, guidance counselors, classroom assistants, afterschool personnel, tutors, and literacy and math coaches).  These efforts will help ensure that schools are able to keep teachers in the classroom, preserve or extend the regular school day and school year, and also support important after-school activities.

The President’s plan includes $5 billion to support the hiring and retention of public safety and first responder personnel. By supporting such jobs, the plan aims to keep communities safe from crime and able to maintain critical emergency response capabilities.

The American Jobs Act calls for substantial investments in our school infrastructure, modernizing and upgrading America’s public schools to meet 21st century needs.  The cost of maintaining more than 100,000 public schools is substantial for already overstretched districts.  The accumulated backlog of deferred maintenance and repair amounts to at least $270 billion.  Schools spend over $6 billion annually on their energy bills, more than they spend on computers and textbooks combined.  For children in the nation’s poorest districts, these deferred projects too often mean overcrowded schools with crumbling ceilings and a lack of the basic wiring infrastructure needed for computers, projectors, and other technology. The President’s plan will invest $30 billion in enhancing the condition ofour nation’s public schools – with $25 billion going to K-12 schools, including a priority for rural schools and dedicated funding for Bureau of Indian Education funded schools, and $5 billion to community colleges (including tribal colleges). The range of critical repairs and needed construction projects would put hundreds of thousands of Americans – construction workers, engineers, maintenance staff, boiler repairman, and electrical workers – back to work.

In order to jumpstart critical infrastructure projects and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, the President’s plan includes $50 billion in immediate investments for highway, highway safety, transit, passenger rail, and aviation activities – with one fifth of the funding advancing a transformation of how we finance transportation infrastructure and what we finance. The plan also includes airport improvement grants of $2 billion to improve safety, add capacity, and modernize airport infrastructure across the country. To direct Federal resources for infrastructure to projects that demonstrate the most merit and may be difficult to fund under the current patchwork of Federal programs, the President is also calling for the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), based on the model that Senators Kerry and Hutchison have championed with bi-partisan supportin the Senate. It also builds on legislation by Senators Rockefeller and Lautenberg, the work of long-time infrastructure bank champions like Rep. Rosa DeLauro and input from the President’s Jobs Council.

The bursting of the housing bubble and the Great Recession that followed has left communities across the country with large numbers of foreclosed homes and businesses, which is weighing down property values, increasing blight and crime, and standing in the way of economic recovery. In these same communities there are also large numbers of people looking for work, especially in the construction industry, where more than 1.9 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The President is proposing Project Rebuild to help address both of these problems by connecting Americans looking for work in distressed communities with the work needed to repair and repurpose residential and commercial properties. Building on successful models piloted through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), Project Rebuild will invest $15 billion in proven strategies that leverage private capital and expertise to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of properties in communities across the country.

The expanding access to high-speed wireless plan follows the model in the bipartisan legislation from Senators Rockefeller and Hutchison in including an investment to develop and deploy a nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety. The plan includes reallocating the D Block for public safety (costing $3 billion) and $7 billion to support the deployment of this network and technological development to tailor the network to meet public safety requirements. This is part of a broader deficit-reducing wireless initiative that would free up public and private spectrum to enable the private sector to deploy high-speed wireless services to at least 98 percent of Americans, even those living in remote rural and farming communities. In addition, freeing up spectrum from the private sector through voluntary incentive auctions that were included in both the Rockefeller-Hutchison bill and the House-passed Budget would raise money to pay for these investments in public safety and also reduce the deficit.

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