Portland, OR – Next week, President Barack Obama plans to lay out an agenda to jumpstart the American economy and create jobs. Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley is urging him to use that opportunity to take aggressive action to keep families in their homes and to finance energy efficiency renovations to reduce energy use and get Americans back to work.
In a letter to Obama, Merkley applauded the President for focusing on job creation and offered his suggestions for how to help get the economy back on track.
Merkley wrote, “An unemployment rate above 9% is simply unacceptable and our slow rate of job creation means that it may be five years or more before we reach the pre-recession unemployment levels. We cannot allow that to happen; we must take concrete steps to create jobs now.”
Merkley noted the dangers that continue to arise from a coming wave of foreclosures. With millions of homeowners at risk, the housing market is a continuing drag on the economy, stunting job growth and creating uncertainty in communities across the country. Merkley is pushing the Administration to implement programs that would help make mortgages more affordable and, thus, help prevent foreclosures.
Merkley is further urging the Administration to endorse programs that will help families and businesses make energy efficiency upgrades to buildings. Low interest loans can encourage improvements now, creating much-needed construction jobs and saving money over the long term in reduced energy use.
“Deficit reduction has dominated discussion in Washington, DC, over the past several months. While I agree we need to lower our deficit, the single best way we can manage our debt is to get Americans back to work. An aggressive push to create jobs is both sound policy and the right thing to do. I hope to have an opportunity to work with you and your team to pursue these and other job creation initiatives.”
Merkley has been advocating for months for a stronger government response to the unemployment crisis, most recently leading 23 Senators in sending a letter to the Senate Republican leader urging that the new “super committee” make near-term job creation strategies a centerpiece of its efforts to reduce the nation’s long-term deficits.
Dear Mr. President:
Our top challenge as a nation, as you know, right now is getting Americans back to work. An unemployment rate above 9% is simply unacceptable and our slow rate of job creation means that it may be five years or more before we reach the pre-recession unemployment levels. We cannot allow that to happen; we must take concrete steps to create jobs now. I was therefore pleased by recent reports that you will lay out a job creation agenda in early September. I urge you to include two specific steps that can help turn around our economy and put Americans back to work.
First, we must aggressively address the tsunami of foreclosures affecting millions of American families. One element of this is to continue to work at improving the Administration’s mortgage modification program, the Housing Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).
In addition, we can and should adopt an aggressive strategy to substantially reduce foreclosures nationally. There are as many as five million foreclosures anticipated to come – this is a huge tragedy for individual families but it is also a drag on our communities and our economy as a whole. Our economy cannot get out of the ditch with so much uncertainty hovering over so many homeowners.
A short-refinance program would curtail the number of foreclosures while providing millions of families with greater disposable income. Another option is to refinance a portion of the current mortgage that corresponds to the value of the house while putting the balance in a silent second mortgage. Yet another approach is a post-foreclosure rental strategy that keeps families in their homes while providing a repurchase option that could restore the family to homeownership in the future.
In short, there are many viable strategies for assisting families and reducing the inventories of foreclosures dragging down our economy. What has been missing is an aggressive plan to utilize such approaches. I applaud your recent statements that you intend to “go back to the drawing board” on housing policy and I stand ready, as do many in Congress, to work with you.
A second area I would encourage your team to pursue to create jobs is to institute a national program to enable homeowners and commercial property owners to invest in energy efficiency renovations for their homes and businesses. There are millions of homes and buildings that would generate substantial savings in energy costs for their owners if they received energy efficient upgrades, such as insulation, new windows, new boilers, and the like. Loans to cover these renovations could be paid back through savings on energy bills, ensuring manageable monthly payments and sparing owners the daunting up-front costs. In the last Congress, legislation was offered to create three key programs – Building Star, Rural Energy Star, and Home Star. Such programs would create desperately-needed construction jobs in communities across America. In the past you have advocated for low cost loans for efficiency improvements as methods to both reduce energy usage and create jobs now. I urge you to reiterate that call and work with me and others in Congress to pass legislation to create low-interest loans for energy efficiency renovations.
Deficit reduction has dominated discussion in Washington, DC, over the past several months. While I agree we need to lower our deficit, the single best way we can manage our debt is to get Americans back to work. An aggressive push to create jobs is both sound policy and the right thing to do. I hope to have an opportunity to work with you and your team to pursue these and other job creation initiatives.