By Representative Lois Capps
America is still recovering from the worst economic crisis many of us have seen in our lifetimes. We have made a lot of progress since the worst days of the downturn, but we still have a long way to go.
Fortunately, there is a plan to get us on the road to recovery. It's called the American Jobs Act. This is the proposal that President Barack Obama outlined in his address to Congress last month and has been urging the Congress to take up quickly. Inexplicably, the leadership in Congress has either stalled it or been outright hostile to it.
I say inexplicably because the components of this plan are ones that have -- for years -- had bipartisan support, especially in tough economic times: cutting taxes, investing in our infrastructure, incentivizing businesses to hire and helping the unemployed get through a rough patch. Mark Zandi, economic adviser for John McCain's presidential campaign and chief economist at Moody's, says this bill would put 1.9 million people to work over the next year.
First, the bill puts hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work immediately in the critical construction industry. It does this by rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges and airports and modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country. That means schools such as Adams Elementary in Santa Barbara can finally build a new library and renovate classrooms. And it means that we can finally widen the Carpinteria Creek Bridge and finish the Los Osos Valley Road interchange.
A new public-private partnership called "Project Rebuild" will also put people to work rehabilitating vacant and foreclosed homes, businesses and communities. This has the added benefit of reducing blight and stabilizing housing prices in states such as California that have been hit hard by the housing crisis.
And the bill would keep nearly 40,000 of California's teachers and first responders on the job and out of the unemployment line through a program to help states avoid layoffs of people in these critically important professions.
Second, the American Jobs Act will cut payroll taxes in half for 160 million workers and 98 percent of small businesses, including the self-employed. This tax cut means the average family will take home about $1,500 more next year. And small businessowners would see their payroll tax bills reduced, giving them more money to invest in their enterprises by over 3 percent.
The bill also helps homeowners reduce their mortgage payments by allowing more Americans to refinance their loans at today's record-low interest rates. That could save more than $2,000 a year for an average family. Economists of every stripe agree that in a consumer-driven economy like ours, putting more money in people's pockets during hard times is critical to getting us back on track, and that's exactly what these tax cuts and other changes mean.
Third, the American Jobs Act provides support for the long-term unemployed and helps them get back to work. It extends emergency unemployment benefits, not only helping struggling families stay afloat, but also helping local businesses as these benefits are spent quickly to pay for basic necessities such as groceries, rent and gas. The bill also implements innovative new work-based reforms to the unemployment insurance program to prevent layoffs and give states greater flexibility to use unemployment funds to better support job-seekers.
Finally, the legislation implements several tax benefits for businesses that hire new workers. It creates a complete payroll tax holiday for businesses that add workers or increase wages and a $4,000 tax credit for employers who hire long-term unemployed workers. And it starts a "Returning Heroes" tax credit that provides $5,600 to $9,600 for the hiring of an unemployed veteran.
Yes, there are many more steps we can and must take to solve this huge challenge facing us. But the American Jobs Act is an excellent first step, one that we should all be able to agree upon and enact quickly.
As I travel throughout the Central Coast, I see small businesses looking hard for new customers, workers still desperately looking for work and homeowners just looking for a little help. We need to address these needs, and we need to address them now. It is long past time for the congressional leadership to stop playing political games and respond to what the American people have been calling for: jobs. We need to pass the American Jobs Act right away.