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February 9th, 2009
Grijalva: Ailing Arizona needs unity

This opinion editorial was published in the Arizona Daily Star.

Arizona and the nation are suffering an economic crisis. We have seen our neighborhoods, schools and roads decline. Our daily newspapers and TV news broadcasts report large numbers of layoffs, foreclosures, education cuts and a rising number of uninsured people.

We, as a government, have a responsibility to stop the crisis.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the first crucial step to stop the crisis and address the comprehensive needs of our country. It provides $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts and $550 billion in carefully targeted priority investments with unprecedented accountability measures built in.

These measures will provide strong oversight with independent review and public transparency, including no earmarks. The tax cuts would return money to 95 percent of American workers; more than 2 million working Arizonans will benefit. The tax cuts will encourage new job-creating investments for businesses that will transform our economy for years to come.

When the plan is enacted, all citizens will have the ability to see how recovery funds are spent on a new Web site:

What the act involved
We must rebuild our deteriorating roads and bridges, modernize public buildings, and put people to work cleaning our air, water and land. The proposed recovery act has $30 billion for highway construction; $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure with investments that lead to long-term energy-cost savings; $19 billion for clean water, flood control and environmental restoration investments; and $13 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption.

These provisions would improve our infrastructure and create about 1.5 million jobs.

The package embraces our environmental and energy issues responsibly. It provides $3.1 billion for infrastructure projects on federal land, such as improvements to visitor facilities, road and trail restoration, preservation of historic and cultural resources, and environmental cleanup. About half of this funding will go to the National Park Service, which has a project list that will lead to the creation of more than 50,000 jobs in the next two years.

The Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will receive the additional funds, creating jobs while improving the condition of precious natural and cultural resources.

The energy portion of the package will create more than 500,000 jobs and accelerate the deployment of smart grid technology, provide energy-efficiency funds for the nation’s schools, offer support for the nation’s governors and mayors to tackle their energy challenges, and establish a new loan-guarantee program to keep our transition to renewable energy on track during this economic crisis.

More jobs in Arizona
Beyond infrastructure, we must create jobs and ensure those jobs are attainable. In Arizona, the state’s budget crisis and latest jobless rate highlights the need for federal assistance.

Arizona is faced with a massive state budget shortfall and posted a 6.9 percent unemployment rate in December, the highest since 1993.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $4 billion for job training, including for adults, dislocated workers and youth services.

It also provides state formula grants to help people with disabilities prepare for gainful employment, match unemployed individuals to job openings and subsidize community-service jobs for low-income older Americans.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will provide desperately needed funds to our struggling education system — a short- and long-term gain for our country. The act has $20 billion for school construction and modernization, and $79 billion to help schools meet budgetary shortfalls and revenue cuts from the states. It also invests in education and child development by infusing money into Head Start and child-development grants, Title I grants (which help school districts assist low-achieving students in high-poverty schools to meet state academic standards) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the law ensuring services to children with disabilities.

The package provides higher-education tax credits, increased funding for Pell Grants (need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and some postgraduate students) and work-study programs, and increased limits on Stafford student loans. These investments will keep higher-education opportunities open for struggling families. The infusion of funds into education will result in the creation of jobs and will prevent teacher layoffs and staffing cuts at schools and colleges.

The pattern of high unemployment and rising costs has put a huge strain on many families. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes a series of provisions to extend unemployment benefits and increase food-stamp benefits. It gives states a temporary option to cover jobless workers through Medicaid, and protects health coverage for millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession by providing up to 12 months of subsidized COBRA health insurance.

COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to continue in their group health plan for limited periods.

Furthermore, the package updates our health care system with information technology that is proved to reduce costs, increase care quality and save lives.

These are highlights of the package’s improvements for our country. Arizona is projected to receive more than $3.5 billion.

Our flagging economy is the legacy left to us after eight years of misguided decisions. These decisions weakened our economy, increased poverty in our country, minimized regulations for corporations and provided tax giveaways for the rich.

The Bush administration inherited a record budget surplus from the Clinton administration. The Obama administration inherited a deficit and an economy where children are hungry, workers are jobless and family homes are being lost. We did not create this recession, but we are taking the responsibility to stop it.

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