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Public Statements

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT OF 2009 -- (Senate - February 10, 2009)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, this is a truly historic moment. We are taking a bold step to meet the greatest challenge to our Nation's continued prosperity in a generation. Thanks to visionary leadership from our new President and from our leaders here in Congress, we can offer new hope for working families throughout the Nation.

America is mired in a crisis unlike any we have seen since the Great Depression. Trillions of dollars of hard-earned wealth have been wiped out. Families are losing their homes, their jobs, their health care, their life savings, and their hopes for the future.

At the heart of this economic turmoil is the collapse of the jobs market. We lost 2.6 million jobs last year. Over 11 million Americans are unemployed--that is more than four unemployed workers for every job opening in the country. We recently learned that there were 626,000 new jobless claims in the past week and that 4.8 million Americans are collecting unemployment compensation--the highest number on record. The monthly job numbers released last Friday show that the national unemployment rate has reached 7.6 percent. In many States, unemployment has already reached 8, 9, or even 10 percent.

Getting laid off can start a devastating downward spiral. It often means the loss of health insurance, leaving families with exorbitant medical bills when they can least afford them. It means more parents can no longer afford to send their children to college or even put food on the table or heat their homes.

We need to turn our economy around, and we need to do it now. Economists agree that only ambitious and aggressive job creation policies--and strong government investment in our nation's future can spark a revival of our economy.

In November, Americans voted overwhelmingly for change--for action over gridlock, for practical solutions over ideology, and for a government that has a role to play in advancing our common prosperity. President Obama has called on us to pass a bold economic recovery bill that embraces these priorities and the bill before us will do that.

First and foremost, this legislation would create good new jobs by repairing and replacing aging infrastructure. The funding included for water infrastructure--both for wastewater and for drinking water--is long overdue. In New England, we have some of the oldest sewer infrastructure in the Nation. Much of it was built in bygone years when excess sewage was dumped into public waterways. These funds are a good start, but much more must be done to replace these so-called combined sewer systems.

Similarly, the bill's investments in roads, bridges, and transit are absolutely essential to putting people back to work, and to avoiding some of the catastrophes we have seen, such as the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota. I commend the bill's managers for recognizing how essential these projects are for the Nation's future.

In all, the Congressional Budget Office reports that economic recovery legislation could save or create up to 2.4 million new jobs this year, up to 3.9 million jobs in 2010, and up to 1.9 million jobs in 2011. These jobs will make a tremendous difference in revitalizing our economy.

But in the meantime, millions of Americans still need help to weather the storm. That is why this bill extends and temporarily increases unemployment insurance benefits. These extra dollars will give a strong boost to economic growth, while putting more money in the pockets of millions of Americans facing the worst job market in a quarter century.

Unfortunately, there are millions of hard-working Americans who have contributed to this vital program, but who don't benefit from it. Only 37 percent of unemployed workers receive benefits. These rules are particularly unfair to the most vulnerable Americans--including low-wage workers and the many women who juggle work and childcare responsibilities.

There is no better time to strengthen this vital safety net and extend it to Americans who have funded it with their hard-earned dollars. That is why I am pleased that this legislation includes provisions from the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill which I have worked on with Senators Baucus, Snowe, Stabenow, Rockefeller, and many others. These provisions will immediately improve coverage for more than 500,000 workers unable to qualify for these benefits now. It will also provide needed funds to States to keep their unemployment offices open and running smoothly, even under the overwhelming flood of applications from workers who have lost their jobs.

The recovery package also strengthens the safety net by making other important investments in the health and wellbeing of children and low-income families. It provides major increases for the School Lunch Program, food stamps, Meals on Wheels, food bank aid, and low-income weatherization assistance. These programs are particularly vital today, when family budgets are being stripped to the bone.

I am especially pleased by the increase in food stamp aid. More than half a million residents in Massachusetts rely on food stamps to buy food each month. Nearly 70 percent of the assistance goes to households with children, and 20 percent goes to households with an elderly person.

These investments are essential to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. In fact, increased spending on food stamps is among the most effective ways to stimulate the economy, and I commend the leadership for bringing forward a bill that makes this kind of wise and compassionate investment.

The legislation will also immediately help Americans to stay healthy, thus making them more productive and successful. It provides job support in medical research. It promotes a primary care workforce. It helps unemployed workers protect their health while looking for new jobs and opportunities.

To create a healthier America, we need greater emphasis on prevention. Citizens need access to primary care providers and preventive screenings, communities need vigorous prevention initiatives, and the nation needs a strong national public health infrastructure and workforce. In our ongoing discussions and work on health reform, it is vital for us to address how best to support prevention and wellness and revitalize our public health system.

Funds provided in the bill are also an important first step in increasing the nation's ability to conduct comparative effectiveness research and achieve the important goal of helping Americans obtain the right care, in the right place, at the right time, every time.

It makes no sense to hamstring such research by placing unnecessary restrictions on what may and may not be studied. Limiting studies only to the clinical practice of medicine could inadvertently prohibit research comparing reforms in health services. One of the best examples of comparative effectiveness research is a study of patients with pneumonia, which has helped us understand who should be hospitalized and who can be cared for at home. That is important science, and we need to encourage it.

Obviously, this stimulus funding is by no means the end of the comparative effectiveness research movement. It is just the beginning. The debate over what research should be conducted, how it should be governed, and how it should be used should be reserved for the ongoing policy discussion.

The legislation also includes important investments in health information technology. Use of electronic medical records will enable our health care system to provide the highest possible quality of care, and also benefit from the improved efficiency that other industries have already achieved through IT. This investment will help develop a high-tech infrastructure for our health care system, and it will also create high paying jobs today. IT industry experts estimate that every $10 billion spent on health information will create more than 200,000 jobs in manufacturing, software development and information technology services.

Finally, the recovery package before us also takes important steps to strengthen education as a key strategy to revitalize the economy and move America forward. It includes important investments at every point in the education pipeline. It will help to prevent harmful teacher layoffs and cuts in school budgets, expand access to child care and preschool programs, and strengthen Pell grants to provide a lifeline of assistance to needy college students.

American education is severely affected by the economic downturn. This package responds directly to that challenge by beginning to revive America's preschool classrooms, its elementary, middle, and high schools, and colleges.

Resources devoted to education and to the future of America's youth are among the most important investments proposed in this legislation, and this assistance couldn't come at a better time. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 States have implemented or proposed cuts in K-12 education. It is part of the economic crunch of rising unemployment, declining consumer spending, and home foreclosures. Per pupil spending has been reduced, school breakfast programs have been eliminated, training for teachers and principals has been cut off, and in some cases schools have been forced to reduce hours in the school day or shorten the school year.

Across the Nation, school superintendents have implemented or plan to implement staff reductions. Many school districts facing shrinking budgets are planning cuts in math and science classes, in new teacher programming, and in teacher mentoring--and they are also increasing class sizes. We must not force America's students to bear these high costs of our economic crisis.

I am especially pleased, therefore, that this legislation includes $39 billion in emergency basic aid to states to prevent harsh cutbacks and reduce budget shortfalls in early childhood education, K-12 education, and higher education. Such aid is a lifeline of support for America's preschools, classrooms, and college campuses.

The bill also makes a significant commitment toward meeting the needs of low-income children, by providing $12.4 billion under title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and provides an unprecedented $13.5 billion to assist schools in meeting their commitment to students with special needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The increase in funding for title I immediately demonstrates our commitment to prevent harmful cuts and deliver the support and solutions needed for schools to close achievement gaps and meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The investment in IDEA is a down payment towards finally meeting the Federal Government's 33-year old promise to fund 40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure for every child in special education. The Federal Government now funds less than half of this commitment, because of the economic shortfall at the local level that is being exacerbated by the current crisis.

I am also pleased that this legislation makes a key investment in upgrading schools for the 21st century by investing in the education technology program under the No Child Left Behind Act.

For low-income college students across the country, the bill increases the maximum Pell grant by $281 for the next school year, and by $400 for the year after that. College costs have risen by more than 400 percent over the past 20 years, but the size of the Pell grant has fallen far behind. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act we passed in the last Congress was a downpayment on this challenge, and this bill is another step in the right direction.

In the current economic climate, this support is more important than ever. As in recessions past, Americans are entering or returning to college in record numbers. Over 6 million citizens have applied for Pell grants this year, an increase of over 10 percent compared to last year. With more and more low-income families and fewer and fewer jobs to go around, opening the doors of college to more students is a sensible response to this economic challenge. It will help us weather the crisis and better prepare our Nation to compete in the future.

Our recovery won't be fair unless it also includes our Nation's youngest and most vulnerable children. This bill delivers over $1 billion for the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, which will allow about 50,000 more children to participate in these programs. The size of Early Head Start will be increased by half, creating almost 30,000 jobs.

Investments in high-quality early learning programs like Head Start produce excellent returns for later economic growth and job development. Currently, Head Start serves only half of eligible preschoolers, and Early Head Start serves less than 3 percent of eligible infants and toddlers. These programs have been struggling, because operating costs associated with providing high-quality early childhood education are soaring, yet staff, program hours, transportation, and other services have been declining in order to deal with a 13-percent decrease in funds. The funding in this recovery package will help Head Start Centers across the country get back on their feet and back on track serving our youngest children.

The legislation also invests in essential child care assistance for children and parents. It provides an increase of $2 billion in the child care development block grant, so that States can serve an additional 480,000 needy children, and paid work opportunities are created for 190,000 caregivers.

Quality child care produces long-term benefits in children's learning and development. It also allows parents to continue working productively. The licensed child care sector enables parents to earn more than $100 billion annually, generating nearly $580 billion in direct and indirect labor income and more than 15 million jobs.

We know that child care is one of the largest expenses for low-income families. Between 2006 and 2007, the average cost of full-time infant child care rose by 6.5 percent, and child care costs for four-year olds rose by 5.3 percent. Yet funding for the child care development block grant has been nearly flat since 2002. As a result, nearly 140,000 fewer children are receiving Federal assistance under this program than in 2002. Only one out of every seven children eligible for assistance under this program now receives it.

There is no question that the challenges we face as a nation are daunting. But they are challenges we must face together. Following the President's lead, we must ask more Americans to be part of the solution. This legislation makes that possible by including $200 million for national service programs and infrastructure, an important investment for these difficult times.

With the crisis hitting community after community, the demand for services and assistance is sharply increasing. In response, more Americans, young and old, are answering the President's call to serve. They are looking for ways to help. Applications to service organizations are up. AmeriCorps members across the country are already performing this needed role, from mentoring youth whose families are struggling, to ensuring low-income individuals have a place to go home to. The increased funding for national service opportunities in this bill will enable more Americans to help those in need, and will also provide support and assistance for nonprofit organizations doing some of the most important work in our neediest communities. Much more can be done to expand these opportunities and encourage more Americans to put their skills and ingenuity to work for others in their hard-hit communities. This legislation is a significant step toward this goal.

This package makes many critical investments in our infrastructure and in our future. Never has action been more urgently needed to jumpstart our economy. This recovery legislation is an indispensible and long-overdue step toward putting our economy back to work for American families. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support these strong measures and to save and create jobs. Together, we can turn our economy around and begin a new era of prosperity for all our Nation's families.

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