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Legislative session roundups in Tennessee and Missouri

Legislative session roundups in Tennessee and Missouri

Thursday, August 6, 2009

PERMALINK: http://progressivestates.org/node/23340

Increasing-Democracy

By: Adam Thompson

Tennessee Session Roundup

For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans held control of both legislative chambers.  However, the moment was fleeting.  At the start of this year's session, Republican Representative Kent Williams seized the Speakership from his GOP colleagues, who had a one seat majority, by teaming up with the House Democrats, who elected him Speaker.  The Tennessee Republican Party responded by banishing Speaker Williams from the Party, although he says he remains a Republican.

Budget: The state enacted a $29.6 billion budget, which is ten percent smaller than last year's budget and will result in 1,400 jobs being eliminated.  The budget relies on $2.2 billion in stimulus funds and allows the state to borrow $547.3 million for university and bridge construction.  Fortunately, pre-K funding received an inflationary increase of roughly $500,000, bringing total funding to $83.5 million. The stimulus program is helping to prevent some painful cuts to services and invest in the state's infrastructure, intitiatives include: $39 million in stimulus funds are going to finance the widening of Highway 66, which is a primary link to the state's main tourist attractions; $18 million are going to support rural transit programs; $19.5 million in grants will go to the state's 20 community action and human resource agencies, which provide assistance to low-income families and residents with development disabilities; and, roughly $90 million will support housing assistance.

In other budget news, showing that small steps can yield big strides, lawmakers enacted S.B. 395 which requires vending machines on state property to use energy-efficient lighting.  The step will save the state $438,000.  Yet, not all cost-savings initiatives are worth it.  In a move the Tennessee Disability Coalition reports as "devastating," the budget eliminates by late 2010 the Family Support Program, which provides assistance to households caring for family members with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

Unemployment: Lawmakers also enacted legislation increasing unemployment insurance by raising the taxable wage base to $9,000 from $7,000 and adopting a 0.6 percent premium charge. The law will enable the state to draw down $141 million in stimulus funds. Other steps taken in order to receive the federal funding increase included changing the number of hours for eligibility for part-time workers from 32 to 20, and increasing payments to applicants with dependents. The law contains triggers for higher premiums if the state’s unemployment funds go down to insure solvency.

Health Care:  The state took a number of positive steps on health care although, they deferred action on a number of highly publicizing and debates measures.  Most positively, the state took action on:

  • Funding: The budget raises premium taxes on Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to draw down federal matching funds and avoid a $300 million cut to TennCare, the state's Medicaid program. HMO's will likely gain in the end, as the $136.6 million raised will result in increased TennCare funding gained under the federal matching funds.
  • Home Health Care: Lawmakers enacted S.B. 851, the "Open Doors Home Health Care Act", which authorizes home health nurses and aides to accompany recipients into the community to help them conduct routine daily activities, such as outpatient medical appointments, school and other educational functions, employment and volunteer opportunities, and church and religious services.  The bill was sponsored by the Tennessee Disability Coalition.  Other related initiatives, include creation of a Senior Alert program modeled after Amber Alerts, increased oversight of school personnel recommendting psychotropic drugs for students, and licensure of medication aides at nursing homes.  Fortunately, lawmakers defeated S.B. 2160 which would have limited the legal liability of nursing homes in cases of abuse and neglect, and thus reducing incentives to improve quality of care.
  • Prescription Drug Price Transparency: Lawmakers approved the “Patient’s Right to Prescription Transparency Act of 2009" to help consumers learn what pharmacies are being paid by health plans for their prescriptions.  The new law prevents a health plan or Pharmacy Benefit Management Company (PBM) from restricting or prohibiting a pharmacy from giving the patient information regarding actual reimbursement. It also defines that percentage based co-pays be calculated based on the total prescription price the plan agrees to pay to the pharmacy. 

Lawmakers deferred for study many bills concerning insurance coverage: Autism Equity, this bill would require insurers to cover care for autism spectrum disorder for patients up to 16 years of age, including coverage for speech, occupational, behavioral and other therapies; Prescription Drugs, this bill would prohibit insurers from limiting or denying continuity of coverage for prescription medications if the drug was being used by the patient at the time of renewal, and if the medication was previously covered by the insurance policy; and, Hearing Aid Coverage, this bill would require a certain annual benefit for hearing aids for insureds to age 24.  And despite a report by the American Cancer Socity showing Tennessee failing to act on measures to reduce cancer rates and improve access to cancer care, lawmakers put off a measure that would have created a comprehensive colorectal screening program for the underserved and required insurers to cover such screenings.

Environment: There were a few victories on the environment, although many were more limited than advocates wanted:

  • Coal: Lawmakers increased the coal severence tax, resulting, in part, in additional funds to counties where coal is extracted.  Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to pass limitations on surface mining within 100 feet of state waters and surface mining above 2,000 feet.  Instead, lawmakers passed a bill banning certain surface mining related activities from within 100 feet of a stream's high water mark.
  • Energy Efficiency: S.B. 1919 creates incentives for local governments to use tax increment financing to pay for energy efficiency costs, encourages sustainable design by including Green Globes and LEED-certification costs within the financing package, and promotes local alternative energy projects that incorporate green design principles.
  • Solar Energy: As reported by the Senate Republican Caucus, the budget includes the use of $62.5 million in stimulus funds to “advance job creation, education, research, and renewable-power production in Tennessee.” The Tennessee Solar Institute at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in conjunction with Tennessee’s universities will focus on basic science and industry partnerships to improve the affordability and efficiency of solar products. The development of a West Tennessee solar farm near Brownsville will involve a five-megawatt, 20-acre power generation facility at the Haywood County industrial megasite that will be one of the largest installations in the Southeast. That facility would also serve as a demonstration tool for educational, research and economic-development purposes.
  • Gasoline: S.B. 1931 allows more Tennessee products to be used in the blending process of gasoline. The bill requires suppliers of gasoline products to make gasoline available to wholesalers in a condition that allows the wholesaler to blend it with ethanol.
  • Methane: Lawmakers enacted public chapter 73 to support the development and use of methane as a renewable energy source.  The law makes it clear that once refined, the extracted methane is a commercial equivalent to natural gas under Tennessee law. As the Senate Republican Caucus reports, experts maintain that landfill gas emitted from decomposing garbage is a reliable and renewable fuel option that remains largely untapped at many landfills across the United States despite its many benefits.  The law makes it clear that any prohibition in permits barring the burning of landfill gas must refer only to unrefined gases and not the extracted and refined methane.

Family Planning: In a swipe at Planned Parenthood and other private family planning providers, lawmakers enacted legislation to require the state to exhaust all public family planning services before funding care provided by private agencies.  The bill also removes specific reference to consultation and coordination with Planned Parenthood affiliates in the development of family planning programs that are administered by the state.

Foreclosures: Lawmakers enacted a bill making it illegal to use unfair or deceptive practices when advertising foreclosure-related services.

Anti-bullying/menacing: Lawmakers enacted S.B. 113 to provide stiff penalties for people who intentionally communicate with another person with "malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress".  The law's application includes phone, e-mail and text-message communications.

Guns:
Despite an immeasurably sensible veto by Gov. Bredesen, lawmakers pressed on and enacted H.B. 962 to allow residents with permits to carry concealed handguns to bring firearms into bars and other restaurants.  The bill was enacted despite strong opposition from police and bar owners.  Lawmakers also passed a law allowing guns in federal, state and local parks.  The law includes an opt-out provision.  Another law passed would exempt guns and ammunition made and remaining in Tennessee from Federal laws.  As the New York Times reports, this is part of an emerging states-right and pro-gun initiative to test federal powers.  A similar bill has been enacted in Montana.

Elsewhere, Tennessee lawmakers had the fortunate sense to  pass legislation requiring people served with an order of protection granted in domestic violence cases to surrender their firearms.

Education: Tennessee raised its cap on the number of charter schools in the state, from 50 to 90 and increased the number of children eligible to attend charter schools. Tennessee is one of 5 states to share $82 million in federal competitive charter school funding grants.  In other news, lawmakers deferred a bill creating an occupational diploma for students with disabilities.  The diploma would be in addition to the full diploma, certificate of attendance and special education diploma currently available.

Elections: By refusing to go along with the House, the Senate effectively upheld a 2008 law mandating all Tennessee counties to obtain new voting machines with a "paper trail" in time for the 2010 elections.  Elsewhere, lawmakers enacted H.B. 1421 to allow e-mail notifications of a transfer of voter registration and to allow a voter to request an absentee ballot application via e-mail.

Immigration: Lawmakers enacted S.B. 1745, which requires the Departments of Labor and Education to establish and monitor a grant program called the "We Want to Learn English Initiative" to encourage immigrant integration into local communities.  This was largely due to the efforts of groups like the Tennessee Immigrant Rights and Refugee Committee. Unfortunately, other chaptered measures were more negative, including:

  • S.B. 2162 which creates new barriers to undocumented immigrants injured on the job from receiving workers compensation. 
  • S.B. 294 creates a Class A misdemeanor offense for a person to knowingly provide, transfer, or submit to any other person false identification for the purposes of obtaining or maintaining employment.
  • S.B. 10 creates a presumption that any defendant not lawfully present in the United States is a risk of flight for bail determination.

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Increasing-Democracy

By: Julie Schwartz

Missouri Session Roundup

The Missouri legislature adjourned after delivering approximately 160 bills to Governor Nixon.  

Budget:  The Missouri legislature passed a $23 billion operating budget  for the fiscal year beginning July 1, plus a two-year $600 million capital improvements budget that includes various projects funded with federal stimulus money. Governor Nixon used the line-item veto to cut $22.8 million from the operating budget and $82.2 million from the capital improvement budget.  For specific initiatives vetoed click here.  The Governor also placed on hold an additional $325 million of expenditures since the state faces declining revenues. 

Stimulus:   Missouri is set to receive over $10 billion in federal stimulus funds, with $1.3 billion being used to fill key holes in depleted state coffers and to increase spending on education over last year despite a 7% overall budget cut. The ARRA funding includes:

  • $525 million to the state Dept. of Transportation.  Because of the state's ability to quickly disperse funds, local construction jobs are already seeing an upwards turn.
  • $229.3 million in stimulus funds from the Department of Energy (DOE). According to the DOE, more than $128 million went to weatherization to help low-income families with energy costs, more than $57 million went to Missouri’s energy program and the state got nearly $44 million from the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant Program.
  • $40.3 million for law enforcement from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, which provides funds to hire police officers, and drug and gang task forces.
  • Other funds will be used to build new capital projects in the University of Missouri system, update technology in public schools, and open a regional jobs transition center for displaced workers.

Tax:  On a positive note the Senate did not pass HJR 36, a proposed constitutional amendment that, if enacted and ratified by Missouri voters, would have replaced the state’s individual and corporate income taxes and the state's sales and use tax, with a flat tax on sales of goods and services, shifting the tax burden onto low-income and working families.  The Senate also rejected a separate set of House bills to lower the top income tax rate and expand deductions benefiting richer taxpayers.

Jobs:  The legislature enacted  H.B. 191, a bipartisan jobs bill that was one of Governor Nixon’s top legislative priorities. The legislation expands the Quality Jobs Program, expands the Missouri BUILD (Business Use Incentives for Large-Scale Development), and provides funding for pre-employment training activities under the state's Job-Training Program.  The bill also eliminates the franchise tax for more than 16,500 Missouri small businesses, or 82 percent of all businesses that owed or paid this tax last year.  

Environment:  The 2009 legislative session was a mixed bag for environmental issues.  

  • H.B. 734  establishes the Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future. The committee will prepare and submit a report to the General Assembly on Missouri's energy needs and methods to reduce energy costs over the next 25 years. The legislation also requires any appliance purchased with state funds to have earned an Energy Star rating.
  • S.B. 376,  a compromise bill,  allows utilities to recover the cost of energy-savings programs, thereby making energy efficiency programs more financially attractive investments.  Specifically the legislation permits utilities to recoup their costs for energy efficiency programs, listing them as separate line-items on electric bills.   The programs must be pre-approved by the PSC, benefit customers, and show energy savings before costs can be recovered.  The bills also includes provisions to assist low-income households.
  • H.B. 661 ended up as the carrier for a majority of legislation that the Department of Natural Resources was trying to pass this session.  Among other provisions, the bill allows the state to distribute economic stimulus funds  for public drinking water and water pollution control projects and creates the Energy Futures Fund.   For a list of some the provisions that passed in H.B. 661 click here.

On a positive note S.B. 228 failed.   This bill would have repealed the Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) ban. The CWIP law currently prevents utilities from passing on the costs of construction of major power plants (including nuclear plants) to ratepayers during the construction phase.  In addition,  H.B. 647, which also was not passed, would have permitted companies that self-report environmental spills and other incidents to receive immunity from prosecution.  It would also have kept these incidents out of the public records. Unfortunately, legislators failed to pass S.B. 430, an omnibus green energy bill, that if enacted would have created and modified provisions pertaining to environmentally sustainable practices.  The following is a list of some of the issues introduced in the legislation:

  • Any state building built or substantially renovated  must be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as meeting the silver rating under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, or must meet at least a three globes rating under the Green Globes building rating system. Public colleges and universities are exempt from the state green building requirement.
  • The act creates an income tax deduction for the purchase of qualified hybrid motor vehicles.
  • The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education should provide grants to public school districts to assist schools' compliance with the state green building requirement for new building construction or substantial renovations.

The Complete Streets legislation, H.B. 642, which also was not enacted, would have required the Department of Transportation to consider non-motorized and transit users in transportation projects.

Labor:  H.B. 1075 will allow Missourians to take advantage of a provision in the federal economic stimulus act extending the period for which people can receive jobless benefits.   The National Employment Law Project estimates the bill could allow Missourians to receive an additional $150 million of unemployment benefits through the end of 2009.  Also included in the bill are unemployment law changes that could let Missouri tap into an additional $133 million in federal stimulus money.

HJR 37 an anti-Employee Free Choice Act resolution, which would have forced the public to vote on an constitutional amendment to restrict the right for workers to choose union representation by majority sign-up, was not enacted.

Immigration:  Unfortunately, Missouri passed H.B. 390, which prohibits undocumented students in colleges and universities from receiving financial aid, provides for verification of lawful presence, and specifies which public benefits pertain and do not pertain to undocumented immigrants. It also requires state contractors to provide affidavits attesting to participation in a federal work authorization program; and requires state contractor employees on public works projects to complete a construction safety program.

Access to Health Care:  S.B. 306the Show Me Health Plan, a cost containment and access bill, was not enacted.  According to the League of Women Voters of Missouri, this legislation was a serious effort to accommodate the health care needs of low income, uninsured workers and families. For a detailed analysis of the legislation click here.   Lawmakers also failed to pass S.B. 167. This bill would have required health insurance coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In a positive, albeit small step, lawmakers enacted H.B. 218. This legislation will maintain eligibility for the state high risk pool for people whose private premiums are greater than 200% of the average premium in the state.  If the legislation had not been passed, the eligibility level would have risen to premiums 300% higher than the average, which is grossly unaffordable.  H.B. 231, which applies federal COBRA insurance continuation standards  to group health insurance policies sold to employers, was also enacted. 

EducationS.B. 291 is a lengthy bill dealing with a number of issues relative to elementary and secondary education.   The bill established the Teacher Choice Compensation Package for the St. Louis City School District.  This will allow for teachers to choose performance-based salary stipends instead of tenure. Some of the other provisions in the legislation include:

  • Establishing the P-20 Council as a private, not-for-profit entity on behalf of the state with the purpose of creating a more efficient and effective education system to better prepare students for entering the workforce.
  • Establishing the School Flex Program to allow eligible students to pursue a timely graduation from high school.
  • Creating the Persistence to Graduation Fund and establishing a procedure for school districts to apply for grants to implement drop-out prevention strategies.
  • Requiring DESE to post free electronic records of all meeting notices and results, providing greater transparency.
  • Establishing the "Foster Care Education Bill of Rights." Each school district must designate a staff person to be an educational liaison for foster care children. This liaison would assist with proper educational placements, transferring between schools, ensuring transfer of grades and credits, requesting school records, and submitting school records that have been requested.
  • Requiring public schools to develop teaching standards by June 30, 2010.
  • Granting local school boards control of school week format, which allows for the possibility of four-day school weeks. This option is desired by many rural districts that seek more flexibility, lower transportation costs and the ability to implement innovative ideas.

One piece of higher education legislation that was not enacted but caused some passionate discourse was S.B. 390.  The legislation would have changed how state scholarship money is distributed through the Access Missouri program. Under the current system, eligible students who go to private universities can receive as much as $4,600 a year. Meanwhile, students attending public four-year universities can receive $2,150. The proposed bills would set the maximum award at $2,850 a year for both private and public university students.

Democracy: Two constitutional amendments that would have harmed democracy in Missouri were thwarted this legislative session.   HJR 10, a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are chosen, passed the House but not the Senate. Had the Senate approved the legislation it would have appeared on the November  2010 ballot. Many worried that this legislation would inject politics into Missouri's judicial selection process, which is a national model for impartial selection of judges.  HJR 9,  another proposed constitutional amendment, which would have required voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls before they could cast a ballot, did not pass either the House or Senate.  Unfortunately, S.B. 59 which would have allowed any eligible voter to cast a ballot at a central voting location in his or her district, with the advance voting period beginning the third Wednesday before an election, was killed by proponents of voter ID who were willing to block widely popular electoral improvements because their divisive legislation failed. 

Housing:  H.B. 382 should provide some protection from predatory mortgage lending practices.  Beginning July 31st of next year, mortgage brokers must register with the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry, which will issue the broker a unique identifier that must be clearly displayed on all official paperwork.  Renters will be provided increased protection when their landlords enter forclosure thanks to the enactment of H.B. 836.  Under the new law, tenants of a residential property must be given written notice when the property has been foreclosed. If the new owner plans to seek possession of the property, the current tenants must be given at least 10 days from the date of notice to vacate the premises.

Miscellenous:

  • This legislative session Missouri became the 13th state to prohibit implementation of the REAL ID national identification system.  H.B. 361 states, “[t]he department of revenue shall not amend procedures  for applying for a driver’s license or identification card in order to comply with the goals or standards of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005, any rules or regulations promulgated under the authority granted in such act, or any requirements adopted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators for furtherance of the act.” This is a huge departure for Missouri. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security gave “$17 million to Missouri to lead the development of the verification hub.” 
  • Lawmakers enacted H.B. 62,  a wide-ranging crime bill that, among other provisions, will place new restrictions on sex offenders, ban text messaging while driving and adds penalties for owners of dangerous dogs.  For bill specifics click here. 
  • S.B. 37, which would have established maximum caseload standards for state public defenders and procedures to follow when maximum case levels were met, was vetoed by the Governor. 
  • Enacted H.B. 152 expands the Missouri DNA profiling system by requiring any person 17 years of age or older who is arrested for first degree burglary, second degree burglary or certain felonies to submit a DNA sample (currently a sample is collected at the point of conviction).  However, if the state highway patrol crime laboratory receives notice that the charges have been withdrawn, the case has been dismissed or there is a finding that the necessary probable cause does not exist, the lab must expunge the DNA sample and DNA profile of the arrestee within 30 days. The Eastern Missouri affiliate of the ACLU stated that this legislation, "violates the right to privacy [by forcing] someone who is innocent until proven guilty to reveal so much about their biological makeup, and could lead to pretextual arrests merely to obtain this information."
  • In May, the Senate passed a measure that would require an abortion provider to give a woman having an abortion after 21 weeks of pregnancy medically accurate materials developed by the statethat include information on fetal pain and anesthesia. The bill, which also contains provisions regarding abortion counseling, hospital requirements and ultrasound, was adopted by the House in March. The measure died in a conference committee when the legislature adjourned.

 

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Research Roundup

An International Comparison of Small Business Employment - Contrary to popular perceptions, the United States has a much smaller small-business sector (as a share of total employment) than other countries at a comparable level of economic development, according to this new Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report.  The report highlights how high health insurance costs and uncertain access discourages small business formation and self-employment in the United States compared to other nations.

The Plastic Safety Net: How Households are Coping in a Fragile Economy - This Demos survey finds that in the first nine months of the recession, three-quarters of low- and middle-income households reported using their credit cards to cover essential living expenses, with nearly half of all households surveyed reporting medical expenses as the chief factor.   The report emphasizes how stagnating wages have fed dependence on debt for most households and the need for policies that raise wage standards, especially for low-wage workers, and address issues like health care and unemployment insurance modernization to ease families' financial burdens.

Supporting women in poverty and during pregnancy

  • Parenting with Dignity: A Series Exploring Real Supports for Pregnant Women - To find more common ground in the debate on reducing the need for abortions by women, the Center for American Progress has launched this series to highlight ways to ease the economic burdens faced by women in pregnancy, from health care to fears of discrimination in the workplace, in order to assist them in ultimately having a child that they might want to have if those obstacles can be overcome.
  • Meager and Diminishing Welfare Benefits Perpetuate Widespread Material Hardship for Poor Women and Children - TANF benefits have declined in real dollars since 1996, dropping in July 2008 for a family of three to a daily, per-person benefit of less than $8.00 in all but one state, less than $5.00 in thirty states, and as low as $1.86 in one state (Mississippi), according to this brief by Legal Momentum.  In no state does this meet the poverty line, itself inadequate, with this report providing state-by-state levels of TANF funding and its value combined with Food Stamps in absolute terms and as a percentage of poverty.

  Two new comprehensive reports on implementation of election reform in the states:

  • The National Voter Registration Act at Fifteen - This Project Vote report reviews the implementation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 in states across the country finds that while there are successes, many states have failed to fully implement best practices on motor voter and mail-in registration, while requirements to register voters at public assistance and disability services agencies has been largely neglected and ignored in many state agencies and poor voter list maintenance has often led to discriminatory purging of voters.   The report emphasizes ways to improve implementation across the states.
  • The State of Elections In The Fifty States - This comprehensive report, including recommendations for improvement, by the Center for Democracy and Election Management finds that there has been real but incomplete progress in improving registration lists, voter identification remains a contentious issue with some states requiring photo ID without providing free access to them, more states are providing a voter-verifiable paper audit trail for voting machines, and early voting and vote-by mail have grown dramatically.

Addressing health equity, insurance exchanges, structuring "play-or-pay" requirements for employers, and health care for immigrant children:

Studies on addressing both early learning and building vibrant neighborhoods for successful schools:

  • Disparities in Early Learning and Development: Lessons from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - By following a diverse birth cohort of children born in 2001, this Child Trends study examines which factors lead to lower levels of educational achievement by low-income families. The report finds that low-income, racial/ethnic minority status, non-English home language and low maternal education each play an independent and cumulative role as risk factors leading to developmental disparities.  The report indicates that early intervention before a child is three is critical to avoid these risk factors leading to long-term disparities in achievement.
  • Vibrant Neighborhoods, Successful Schools: What the Federal Government Can Do to Foster Both - This Urban Institute report finds that poor school performance is inextricably tied up in poor housing policies that create feedback loops of richer families looking for better schools driving up housing costs in good school districts and thereby often making such districts unaffordable for low-income families. Better policies outlined in this report would address the connections between schools and housing in order to trigger positive feedback that enhances neighborhood vitality, improves school quality, and promotes equity and opportunity for families and their children.

Port Trucking Down the Low Road: A Sad Story of Deregulation - The costs of trucking deregulation decades ago is highlighted in this Demos report in examining port trucking, as highway safety has diminished, public health from emissions has been endangered, and health services have been burdened as low-wage drivers lose employer-provided health care.  The report recommends the end of the misclassification of truckers controlled by larger companies as independent contractors and new standards for diesel emissions and highway safety.

It's Getting Hot in Here: Texas Weatherization Assistance Program Provides Relief to Low-Income Families and Creates Jobs for the New Economy - This report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities highlights how the federal ARRA recovery act has provided weatherization funds for 25,000 to 30,000 new low-income homes, cut their utility bills and increased the value of their homes while creating new jobs.



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