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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What are their priorities?

The tax extenders bill (also known as the jobs bill), H.R. 4213, has been stalled in Congress for weeks. The Senate has now attempted to pass a bill to address the unemployment and state budget crisis three times to no avail. Each step along the way, the Senate has hit a wall of opposition that is supposedly based on concerns about increasing the federal deficit. To appease these concerns, the Senate cut a critical provision to provide additional assistance to states for Medicaid by one-third – but the bill still failed to win the 60 votes necessary to pass. Every Republican and one Democrat voted against the bill.

Without this assistance, states struggling with the impact of the recession and reduced revenues will be forced to make cuts across state budgets – reducing support not only for health care services but also for education, transportation, and other vital state services.

Ironically, while the Senate has scaled back the help for workers and states, it has left in place a list of tax breaks that cater to special interests, including owners of motorsport tracks, owners of “marginal” oil wells, film producers, and multinational financial services companies, to name a few

All of which leads us to wonder: What are their priorities?

An unprecedented 15 million Americans are out work, and a whopping 46 percent of these unemployed Americans have been without a job for at least six months, according to the National Employment Law Project and the U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

As families are hurting, states are feeling the crunch, too. Even though the latest FMAP extension legislation provides less relief than was originally considered ($15 billion over six months instead of $23 billion), it would still go a long way toward preventing states from enacting harmful budget cuts. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 29 states were counting on these extra Medicaid funds when they laid out their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Congress’ failure to pass an extension means that state legislatures and governors will be forced to take alternative actions to close their budget deficits.

The failure of Congress to extend financial assistance to states will have a devastating impact on jobs. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the impact of state budget cuts could cost the national economy 900,000 public- and private-sector jobs, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. In addition, it will result in severe cuts to programs that serve Americans who most need the help.

In many states, the new fiscal year will bring immediate cuts to programs and services that are facing unprecedented demand. As of July 1, 10,000 families in Arizona will lose eligibility for temporary cash assistance … and Kansas will cut off nearly 2,800 individuals with a disability from independent living services. Education, health care, and other priority areas will also face new cuts in the coming fiscal year — on top of extensive cuts that at least 45 states have enacted over the last two years.

It’s time for us to reach out to Congress and ask them what their priorities are. Call your senator today at 1-866-922-4970 and let him or her know that the millions of Americans who need help in our struggling economy and the states that depend on this funding to keep important programs running should be their top priority.