Wednesday, August 11, 2010

$26 BILLION TO SCHOOLS, MEDICS - HOUSE: Emergency House session aids health services, saves jobs of laid-off teachers - bringing back 1000-2700 teaching jobs in LAUSD

By Daily News Staff and Wire Services - Daily News Staff Writers Connie Llanos and Troy Anderson contributed to this report.


  • 1,000-2,700: Teaching jobs that would be created in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

  • 16,000: Jobs projected to be saved or created in California under the jobs bill.

11 August 2010 -- WASHINGTON — Summoned back from summer break, the House on Tuesday pushed through an emergency $26 billion jobs bill that Democrats said would save 300,000 teachers, police and others from election-year layoffs. President Barack Obama immediately signed it into law.

Lawmakers streamed back to Washington for a one-day session as Democrats declared a need to act before children return to classrooms minus teachers laid off because of budgetary crises in states that have been hard-hit by the recession.

Republicans saw it differently, calling the bill a giveaway to teachers' unions and an example of wasteful Washington spending that voters will punish the Democrats for in this fall's elections. The legislation was approved mainly along party lines by a vote of 247-161.

Los Angeles city and county officials welcomed the bill, which they say will save the jobs of thousands of teachers, police officers and firefighters and help the county sustain care to a skyrocketing number of poor, sick, disabled and mentally ill people seeking help.

"I applaud Congress, and in particular the leadership of Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, for the passage of the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act today," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

"This legislation amounts to a $1.2 billion investment in California's future, and is projected to save or create over 16,000 jobs, particularly teacher jobs. With children all over Los Angeles heading back to school in the next month, this bill comes not a moment too soon."

As of Tuesday evening, city officials did not know how many city jobs would be saved by the bill.

Los Angeles Unified, the state's largest school district, could get from $100 million to more than $240 million of the state's funding. That could bring back anywhere from 1,000 to 2,700 teachers based on an average teacher salary of $89,000 including benefits.

The wide variance in jobs that could be saved depends on whether state officials ultimately decide to distribute the money on a per capita basis or based on the number of low-income students in a district.

The funding can be used to retain or rehire former employees or hire new school-based workers. It cannot be used to to fill existing budget holes at the district or the state.

After cutting more than $1.5 billion from school budgets over the last three years, LAUSD officials celebrated the arrival of the financial relief.

"Washington finally recognized that it's not OK to compromise children's present in the name of their future," said LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, who has been to Washington several times to lobby in favor of the bill.

"You cannot have the gains and the progress that the president has charged us with if we do not have the people with which to achieve that prog- ress," Zimmer said. "Stability is a prerequisite for progress."

Closing loopholes

The aid for the states is to be paid for mostly by closing a tax loophole used by multinational corporations and by reducing food stamp benefits for the poor.

Obama, joined by teachers at a Rose Garden ceremony earlier in the day, said, "We can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe."

The Senate narrowly passed the measure last Thursday, after the House had begun its August break.

The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers won't be let go before the new school year begins. The Education Department estimates that could save 160,000 jobs.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his department would streamline the application process to get the money to local school districts quickly. He said three-fourths of the nation's districts have said they would be opening the school year with fewer teachers and "we wanted to avert a crisis for this year."

An additional $16 billion would extend for six months increased Medicaid payments to the states. That would free money for states to meet other budget priorities, including keeping more than 150,000 police officers and other public workers on the payroll.

At a time when Los Angeles County hospitals are jammed with sick patients and the number of people seeking monthly $221 General Relief checks has shot up 60 percent to more than 90,000 since the recession started, Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop said the county expects to receive anywhere from $61 million to $160 million from the bill.

The additional funds will provide the county with more money to provide medical care, in-home care, foster care, mental health, welfare and other services to the needy, Alsop said.

"Increased federal matching funds are especially important during a deep recession when medical assistance, foster care and adoption assistance needs increase at the same time state and county revenues decrease," Alsop said.

In California, counties help finance the non-federal share of Medicaid-funded assistance, including mental health and In-Home Supportive Services, and foster care and adoption assistance.

"Extending (the Recovery Act's federal matching funds) increase, therefore, would lessen the need for the county as well as the state to make deeper cuts in essential services for persons hurt by the recession," Alsop said.

Some three-fifths of states have already factored in the federal money in drawing up their budgets for the current fiscal year. The National Governors Association, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the states' estimated budget shortfall for the 2010-12 period is $116 billion, and the extended Medicaid payments are "the best way to help states bridge the gap between their worst fiscal year and the beginning of recovery."

'When do bailouts end?'

Not all governors were on board. Mississippi Republican Haley Barbour said his state would have to rewrite its budget and would have to spend $50 million to $100 million to get its additional $98 million in education grants.

The $26 billion package is small compared to previous efforts to right the flailing economy through federal spending. But with the election approaching, the political stakes were high.

"Teachers, nurses and cops should not be used as pawns in a cynical political game" resulting from "the Democratic majority's failure to govern responsibly," said Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas.

At LAUSD, funding could be used to bring back reduced arts and music programs, restore library aides at elementary and middle schools or bring down class sizes.

However, with some schools already opening this month, and all expected to be back by Sept. 13, bringing back recently laid-off staff and programs could be difficult this year.

Back in Washington, House Republicans wondered when all the federal aid was going to stop.

"Where do the bailouts end?" asked Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Are we going to bail out states next year and the year after that, too? At some point we've got to say, 'Enough is enough."'

But Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee said his state of Washington would get funds to keep 3,000 teachers. Republicans, he said, "think those billions of dollars for those corporate loopholes is simply more important than almost 3,000 teachers and classrooms in the state of Washington."

Ways to pay the bill

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said Republicans ignore the fact that the law would not add to the federal deficit. "They want to do everything in their power to make certain that President Obama can't get this country going again. I think in November they are going to find it was a dumb policy."

The means of paying for the bill, a result of difficult negotiations in the Senate, were contentious.

Republicans objected to raising some $10 billion by raising taxes on some U.S.-based multinational companies. Advocates for the poor protested a provision to accelerate the phasing out of an increase in food stamp payments implemented in last year's economic recovery bill. Under the measure, payments would return to pre-stimulus rates in 2014, saving almost $12 billion.

James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said that would be cutting benefits for some 40 million people now receiving food stamps. "Those families will be hungrier and less able to buy healthy diets," he said.

Weill's group estimated that a family of four that may now receive about $464 a month in food stamps stood to lose about $59. Democrats gave assurances that they would look for other ways to pay for the law before the payment cuts go into effect in four years.

"The cutbacks in food stamps in the bill are plain wrong," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.

No comments: