Focus on Jobs: The Next Step in National Economic Recovery and State Fiscal Relief

Focus on Jobs: The Next Step in National Economic Recovery and State Fiscal Relief

Thursday, December 10, 2009



Join Progressive States Network tomorrow, Friday December 11th at 1pm EST to discuss Green Buildings and Green Jobs, one of the policies included in PSN's 2010 Shared Multi-State Agenda.  Lawmakers, advocates, and experts will discuss how state and local governments can promote energy efficiency and good green jobs through retrofitting existing buildings and homes, and developing new buildings based on national standards. Speakers on the call will include:

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Focus on Jobs: The Next Step in National Economic Recovery and State Fiscal Relief

On Tuesday, December 8th, President Barack Obama delivered an address to the Brookings Institution on the need for increased focus on the job crisis that is affecting so many working families across the country.  His proposals included key programs administered by the states, such as investments in infrastructure, clean energy investments, the extension of unemployment insurance, and ensuring that states are not forced to lay off teachers, police, and other vital service providers.  This would be complemented by direct federal help such as tax breaks for small businesses and extension of COBRA subsidies for the unemployed.

The President stated, "[f]or even though we've reduced the deluge of job losses to a relative trickle, we are not yet creating jobs at a pace to help all those families who've been swept up in the flood.  There are more than 7 million fewer Americans with jobs today than when this recession began.  That's a staggering figure, and one that reflects not only the depths of the hole from which we must ascend, but also a continuing human tragedy."  The speech followed a job summit the President convened last week that featured CEOs, small business owners, labor leaders, and nonprofits sharing insights on methods to foster economic growth.

Reports Detail the Jobs Crisis and the Need for Expanded Recovery Programs:  While a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study documents that the recovery plan has created or saved as many as 1.6 million jobs, millions of unemployed Americans are still in need of help. 

This need for new jobs highlighted by the President is echoed by a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), entitled Jobs Crisis Fact Sheet.  Among their findings:

  • 15.4 million Americans are unemployed;
  • 38.3 percent of unemployed have not had a job in over six months;
  • 8 million jobs were lost during the recession, which includes 1.6 million lost in construction and 2.1 million lost in manufacturing;
  • 1 in 10 Americans are unemployed;
  • 1 in 6 Americans are underemployed;
  • 15 states are experiencing double-digit unemployment.

These bleak figures are exacerbated by state fiscal uncertainty that is forcing lawmakers to consider cuts to vital programs, such as education and health care.  As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) indicates in Additional Federal Fiscal Relief Needed to Help States Address Recession's Impact, total state deficits in FY2011 and 2012 will likely exceed what can be covered by ARRA funding by over $260 billion.  Furthermore, "[p]resuming they will get no more fiscal relief, states will have to take steps to eliminate deficits for state fiscal year 2011that will likely take nearly a full percentage point off the Gross Domestic Product.  That, in turn, could cost the economy 900,000 jobs next year."

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with "I think it’s vital states get additional stimulus. If no more aid is forthcoming, then (states will) be cutting jobs, programs and raising taxes”¦ because their fiscal situation continues to deteriorate more rapidly.  Tax revenues are still falling at a very rapid clip.  So states are going to have a huge hole beginning in 2011 when the current stimulus runs out.  I suspect they’ll be cutting spending and raising taxes long before reaching that cliff."

For the unemployed specifically, the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress highlighted in their report Keeping a First Line of Defense for the Jobless that benefits for the unemployed provided by the ARRA recovery plan, from extended unemployment benefits to COBRA health care premium subsidies, have been critical in providing help to jobless individuals and injecting cash into communities hardest hit by unemployment.  The report outlines how these programs have helped the economy and why the programs should be renewed.

Renewed Support for States and the Unemployed Needed:  Accordingly, any federal job creation and economic growth plan must be accompanied by further fiscal relief for states.  Progressive States Network, along with a wide range of allies, have called for a second round of federal stimulus to assist burgeoning state budget gaps.

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Conservatives Introduce Anti-Health Reform Bills in the States

Under the guise of "choice" in health care, conservatives are launching a state-based campaign to derail health reform.  With support from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), conservative legislators in at least 24 states are introducing a bill that says no one shall be required to purchase health care from the government or a government-defined health plan or be prevented from buying private insurance, and that residents shall have the right to pay for health care directly out of pocket.  The bill is modeled after ALEC’s “Freedom of Choice in Health Care Act.”  Progressives are pushing back by underscoring the need for health reform and identifying this bill as a poorly veiled messaging tool to derail health reform and strengthen the power of health insurance companies.

After the bill was introduced in her state of Georgia, Rep. Alisha Morgan, told The Marietta Daily Journal that,

the measure, “distracts from a real problem at hand, which is that Georgia has close to 1.7 million people who are uninsured.  Instead of going after the consumer and small business-friends bill being debated in the Senate, we should go after the insurance companies, which repeatedly deny health care to Georgian families and hold payments from our family physicians.” 

"If we are to truly create consumer choice in health care, we need to support the federal reform bill that is now before the U.S. Senate," she said.

The U.S. Senate bill would end the practice of insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, allow Georgians to seek care from the doctor of their choice or require Americans to purchase a government-run health plan, she said.

According to a press release from the sponsor of the Georgia bill, the anti-reform legislation has been filed, or pre-filed, in: AL, AZ, FL, GA, IN, MI, MN, ND, NM, OH, PA, SC, WV, and WY.  Legislators in the following states have said they will introduce the bill: AK, KS, LA, MO, MS, NH, OK, MT, TN, and UT.  For the text of the bill, see Pennsylvania House Bill 2053.

To push back on this conservative effort to derail reform and to prepare as anti-reformers shift their focus to state houses across the country, progressives can use the following talking points:

  • More and more families are losing their medical insurance because it’s too costly for them and their employers, and those families with insurance are paying more and getting less every day.  We need health reform, and we need it today.
  • Congress is working on health reform that seeks to ensure all Americans have access to affordable care while protecting Americans' choice about the health plan they choose.  Right now, small businesses and families are struggling to pay increased costs for coverage, at the same time that insurance companies are denying them coverage for pre-existing conditions and dumping them from coverage the minute they get sick.  This bill will make these problems worse by giving more power to the very companies who are taking advantage of Americans today.  The real solution to the problems that Americans experience today exists in federal health reform.
  • This bill is nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to derail health reform.  It distracts from the very real problem at hand and does nothing to help families and small businesses access quality and affordable health care.  In fact, it would strengthen the power of insurance companies, which repeatedly deny health care to families and hold payments from our family physicians.
  • The health reform bills provide security and stability to those who have insurance, offer affordable options for those that don’t, strengthen the financial health of Medicare, and lower costs for families and businesses. 
  • The health reform bills create more choices by helping tens of millions of uninsured and under-insured American families afford quality coverage.  If a worker doesn't have insurance coverage through their job, or that coverage is not affordable, they will have new choices of coverage.

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Access to Voter Registration for Low-income Ohioans Set to Improve

Low-income Ohioans will soon be ensured access to voter registration at Ohio public assistance offices as the result of a settlement agreement that resolves a three-year old lawsuit compelling compliance with the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).  Section 7 of the NVRA requires public assistance agencies to provide voter registration opportunities to their clients.  The lawsuit was brought because many of Ohio’s public assistance offices were ignoring their responsibilities to provide voter registration to their clients, and there was no state official overseeing the state’s compliance with the law.  At the time of filing, then-Secretary of State (SOS) Kenneth Blackwell contended that the state’s obligation to provide voter registration services to its low-income residents was satisfied by the maintenance of a toll-free hotline for public assistance offices to call.

“As a result of the steps the Secretary of State and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) Director will take, we expect hundreds of thousands of voting-eligible low-income Ohioans to be registered to vote,” said Lisa Danetz, Senior Counsel in the Democracy Program at Demos and co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  "We applaud the integration of voter registration into agency processes as well as the planned monitoring of the county public assistance offices."

As a result of the agreement, the provision of voter registration services will be institutionalized within the office procedures at county DJFS offices, and both the Secretary of State (SOS) and ODJFS will make sure such services are provided.  In particular:

  • A notice of the availability of voter registration and a voter registration application will be integrated within each agency’s benefits forms;
  • The provision of voter registration, and its details, will be incorporated into the ODJFS statewide computer system used by all frontline caseworkers;
  • The state will implement an extensive and regular training program for those employees with voter registration responsibilities;
  • There will be regular reporting and monitoring of important data from the statewide computer system, county boards of elections and county DJFS offices;
  • The SOS will conduct at least 20 unannounced spot checks of local agencies each year;
  • Both the SOS and ODJFS will follow up with counties whose local agencies appear not to be providing voter registration services; 
  • ODJFS will conduct a regular review of voter registration services, using the same mechanisms that it employs to oversee the local provision of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps); and,
  • To broaden voter registration among low-income residents, the SOS will designate the Department of Veterans Affairs, in its administration of medical services and services for homeless veterans, as a voter registration agency.  The SOS will also work with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to encourage voter registration among recently released offenders.

The settlement is a result of work carried out by the NVRA Implementation Project, a collaboration between Demos, Project Vote, ACORN and the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  The project's goal is to remedy the serious under-representation of low-income voters in the electorate.  In Ohio, only seventy-one percent of low-income citizens are registered to vote compared to ninety percent of affluent citizens. Similar disparities exist throughout the country, even as racial, ethnic, age and other disparities have recently been reduced.  NVRA compliance is also an element of PSN's 2010 Shared Multi-State Election Reform Agenda and will be an election reform focus for us in the coming legislative session.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Indiana and New Mexico, and in 2008 successfully settled a lawsuit in Missouri that has led to a vast increase in voter registration applications submitted at the state’s public assistance offices.  In fact, agency-based registrations in Missouri skyrocketed from 8,000 a year to more than 100,000 in just eight months after the court-ordered settlement.  It is estimated that proper implementation of the NVRA’s public assistance provisions nationwide could result in 2-3 million additional voter registrations per year.

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Research Roundup

Reports on Economic Recovery and Anti-Poverty Strategies:

  • Battered by the Storm: How the Safety Net Is Failing Americans and How to Fix It - Federal aid programs to reduce the effects of the economic crisis on struggling families, such as TANF and unemployment insurance are insufficient to address the needs of struggling families, according to this joint report by the Institute for Policy Studies, Center for Community Change, Jobs with Justice, and Legal Momentum.  Along with proposing expanded aid, the report proposes long term solutions such as increasing the minimum wage, quality health care, and investments in education.
  • Workforce development as an antipoverty strategy - Despite having a labor market that puts a greater premium on skill development, our nation spends dramatically fewer resources on the training of disadvantaged workers than we did in the 1970s, according to this report by the Institute for Research on Poverty.  While workforce development needs to be accompanied by complementary strategies including income support such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and other benefit supports for working families, increased spending on training is a critical need in the economy.
  • Pathways: Are Green Jobs a Silver Bullet? - This series of articles published by the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality explores what is needed to assure that green jobs create economic opportunity for all Americans, rather than benefiting just a small number of high-skilled workers.

Re-imagining Community Colleges in the 21st Century - Each of the primary missions of community colleges faces a broad spectrum of challenges, according to this report by the Center for American Progress, and they need to respond by improving vocational and occupational education, strong support for transfer to four-year colleges, better infrastructure and technology and better data and assessments of standards to facilitate mobility of students between institutions.

Immigration Reform Is Good for Economic Recovery - Legalizing eight million undocumented workers, requiring them to pay taxes and leveling the playing field for business owners who play by the rules is an important step in strengthening any economic recovery, according to this Center for American Progress report.  Reforms would keep law-abiding businesses from constantly being undercut by outlaw employers who exploit workers by making them work in substandard conditions and at lower wages, while all workers would benefit by encouraging better enforcement of wage and labor rights in the workplace.

Opportunities for Policy Leadership on Fathers - This Sloan Work and Family Research Network brief focuses on the work-life conflicts of fathers and how to encourage greater contact between fathers and their children.  The report highlights surveys of fathers and how policies like parental leave can help relieve part of that work-life conflict.

Coverage for Caregivers: Lessons from Massachusetts Health Reform - From Health Care for Health Care Workers, this survey of nursing home and home care providers conducted three years after Massachusetts legislated health reform reports that less than one-fifth of Massachusetts direct-care workers — nursing home assistants, home health care aides, and personal care attendants — are enrolled in employer-sponsored health insurance plans, primarily because they are too costly or are ineligible due to their part-time work status or a waiting period.  Researchers recommend that for Congress to significantly improve access to quality, affordable insurance for direct-care workers and their employers, the following provisions should be included in health reform legislation:  a robust national, publicly operated health insurance option; allow all eldercare/disability service employers access to the proposed insurance “exchanges” or “gateways” regardless of size; ensure adequate federal subsidies to low- and moderate-income workers and their families, and; expand Medicaid to include all individuals earning up to at least 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
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Marisol Thomer
, Outreach Director
Enzo Pastore, Health Care Policy Advocate
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax & Budget Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
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