Statement on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the Conference Report to H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which addresses the unprecedented economic crisis we are currently facing. This measure will put our economy back on track and will also transform our economy for the 21st Century through much needed investments in our health care system, infrastructure, education, and energy independence, while saving and creating millions of jobs during the next two years.
We are facing dire economic times. Every week, we are faced with new reports on job losses across our country. In my home state of Rhode Island, we have the country's second highest unemployment rate at ten percent and last December, we were ranked sixth nationally in foreclosure rates. These harsh realities have made it increasingly clear that our economy will face an even sharper downturn if we do not act soon.
The compromise between the House, Senate and White House is not perfect, but it contains the right formula of spending and tax relief to stimulate our economy and increase new job opportunities. With that in mind, I support taking action to rebuild our nation's economy and put Rhode Island families first. H.R. 1 will appropriate spending for transportation and infrastructure upgrades and construction, health care programs, education assistance, housing assistance and energy efficiency upgrades, and includes personal and business tax breaks, tax provisions intended to assist state and local governments, and energy-related tax incentives for a total of $787 billion to be expended over Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010. This measure helps those hit hardest by the economic downturn by extending unemployment benefits, providing job training to get people back to work quickly, increasing food stamp benefits, and extending health benefits.
The recovery plan provides funding to modernize our crumbling roads and bridges, increase transit and rail funding to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption, and invest in clean water and other environmental restoration projects. These investments will immediately create jobs in my state, as projects will only receive funding if they are "ready to go" within 90 days of the enactment of this bill. This legislation also includes additional infrastructure funding that will improve our national security by modernizing our electric grid, upgrading our airport, port, transit and rail security, and updating Department of Defense facilities.
One of the best ways to grow our economy is by investing in our future workforce. The inclusion of robust education initiatives that will build 21st Century classrooms, labs and libraries is also very important to me as we prepare the next generation of workers to support and strengthen our economy. I am pleased that funding to modernize, renovate and repair school buildings is included in the final language. It also contains funding for Title I programs, which serve disadvantaged children, and IDEA, which serves disabled children, ensuring that all children, regardless of where they live or their disability, receive a quality and equal education. Moreover, this level of funding for IDEA increases the Federal share of special education services to its highest level ever and brings much needed relief to school systems. H.R. 1 also provides $15.6 billion for Pell grants, and it is estimated that Rhode Island will receive $97.5 million in aid for 28,217 recipients for an average award for the academic year 2009-10 of $3,456. Investing in our children's education not only has long-term benefits to our economy, but it also delivers on our nation's promise to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Investments in American health care also represent a vital component of our nation's economic recovery and long term fiscal sustainability. This package contains several provisions that will stimulate job growth and improve health care quality and efficiency through $10 billion investments in biomedical research and $19 billion for the further development and implementation of health information technology.
This bill bolsters crucial safety net programs that provide invaluable health and social services to our nation's low-income and disabled citizens with the inclusion of $87 billion in enhanced funding for state Medicaid programs that have been stretched to the breaking point under increased unemployment and skyrocketing health costs. This package also includes a provision to assist recently unemployed individuals and their families by helping them maintain their health coverage through a 65% subsidy for health insurance premiums under COBRA for up to nine months.
One of the greatest challenges we face with this effort is ensuring that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. This bill makes great strides by investing in the transformation of our national energy policy, which will lead to greater technological advancements in renewable technologies, job creation, and energy independence. Now is the time to make the commitment to our children and our grandchildren that we will leave a safer, cleaner, and healthier environment than we have now. As a co-founder of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, I fought for several provisions in H.R. 1 that promote energy efficiency and renewable energy production and development, including tax provisions for families and businesses, in addition to funding that will drive the creation of new, "green-collar" jobs. More importantly than tax incentives alone, this measure sets forth a long-term energy policy that puts our nation on the path towards energy independence.
Individuals and families will also receive relief through the "Making work pay" tax credit, which will provide up to $400 for an individual or $800 for married couples filing jointly. Parents will also benefit from an increase in the earned income tax credit for families with three or more children and the bill allows additional low-income families to receive the child tax credit. The measure will also provide a tax credit up to $8,000 for first time home buyers if they purchase a home between January 1st, 2009 and December 31st, 2009, injecting a much needed financial incentive into the housing market.
I also urge my colleagues to join me in my support for H.R. 1 because it includes unprecedented accountability and strong oversight by creating the Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board, which will coordinate and conduct oversight of federal spending under the bill. A public website will also contain the board's reports, show exactly how funds are spent and will list announcements of contract and grant competitions and awards.
Madam Speaker, it is important to understand that this funding is not a silver bullet, but that our economy will continue to decline without this immediate action. The Recovery package will slow our downward economic trend and allow us to regain our footing as we begin to make much-needed long term investments to transform our economy for the 21st Century. American prosperity depends on individual economic security. It is only when Americans do not have to worry about losing their job, keeping their home or paying their bills that our economy will truly flourish. I am committed to improving the economic outlook for the millions who are struggling, and I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress on this vital and urgent goal.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.