Merkley: Economic Growth Package Contains Significant Help For Workers and States

Washington, DC – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley expressed his support for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act prior to today’s Senate vote on the final package.  The bill will create jobs, invest in America’s infrastructure, provide assistance to states and promote the production and development of green energy.


“America is in the midst of a jobs crisis.  In Oregon, our unemployment rate has gone up a full percentage point every month for the last three months and we expect the numbers will get worse before they get better,” said Merkley.  “This bill meets that crisis head on by investing in programs that will create jobs now and pave the way for future growth.”


The Senate is voting today on the approximately $790 billion conference report, which has already passed the House of Representatives.  Among the critical provisions of the bill:


·         Tax Cuts for 95% of Workers and Their Families:  The package includes several provisions to cut taxes for working Americans including the Make Work Pay credit of $400 per person for those making up to $75,000 and $800 per couple for those making up to $150,000, and a new $2500 American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education.


·         Assistance to States:  States, many of which face budget shortfalls, will receive significant assistance in this package including $53.6 billion through a state stabilization fund – a significant increase over the $39 billion passed by the Senate – and $87 billion in increased federal Medicaid funding. 


·         Help for Those in Need:  Families that are struggling will get a helping hand in this bill which  includes $19.9 billion in increased food stamp funding; more than $10 billion than the amount originally passed by the Senate.  In addition, unemployment benefits will be increased by more than $100 a month with a 33 week extension of benefits for those who have exhausted their regular benefits.  Both food stamps and extended unemployment benefits have been called the best “bank for the buck” forms of stimulus, with $1 in funding generating $1.73 and $1.63 respectively in increased economic activity. 


·         Investing in Green Energy:  The legislation promotes the development and use of green energy through more than $27 billion in funding to make buildings more energy efficient and to train workers in “green jobs” which will decrease our dependence on foreign fuel while creating jobs here at home.  The bill also includes $17 billion to modernize the nation’s electricity grid and implement “smart grid” technology.


·         Creating Jobs in Our Forests:  The final package will place a renewed emphasis on forest health and rural jobs through $500 million in funds to mitigate and prevent forest fires by thinning choked and overgrown second growth forests, including up to $50 million in “wood-to-energy” grants to promote the use of forest biomass as a source of renewable fuel.  The final amount is a $15 million increase over funding passed by the Senate.

“We are facing some of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.  The choice before Congress was clear:  follow those who wanted to stay on the same road that got us to this point, or work with President Obama to chart a new direction that puts the focus squarely on the needs of working Americans,” said Merkley.  “We have taken a huge step forward on that new path today and I’ll continue to fight for families that are hurting during this recession.”