As Ocean State Faces Soaring Unemployment, Whitehouse Urges New Stimulus Bill to Create Jobs
Rhode Island’s Unemployment Rate Worst in the Nation in September
Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote to Senate leaders today asking that any new economic stimulus legislation include funding for road, bridge, school, and water infrastructure construction projects that would create jobs immediately in our distressed economy. Rhode Island's unemployment rate in September was 8.8 percent, the highest in the nation.
"People are suffering, and we understand that Congress must act to stimulate the sagging economy. I believe that the best way to energize the economy is to create jobs," Whitehouse wrote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV). Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Budget Committee, which sets spending levels for the federal government, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over road and highway construction.
Whitehouse noted that more than 72,000 highway bridges across the country - including 164 in Rhode Island - are structurally deficient, meaning that they are weight-restricted or require immediate rehabilitation. The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion of federal spending on infrastructure creates 35,000 new jobs, and according to a survey of state agencies, construction on up to $18 billion of transportation projects is "ready to go." Funding these projects could create 630,000 jobs nationwide.
For several months, Democrats in Congress have called for a second stimulus bill to aid families facing financial stress, an idea that gained support Monday from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. In addition to transportation and water infrastructure projects, Whitehouse asked that such legislation promote "green" rehabilitation for schools with maintenance or structural needs, as well as increased funding to help families weather-proof their homes for winter.
The text of Whitehouse's letter follows:
October 24, 2008
The Honorable Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader
S-221 Capitol Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Robert Byrd
Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations
311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Senators Reid and Byrd:
As President Bush prepares to leave office, Americans are facing the toughest economic climate in memory. Unemployment is on the rise across the nation and reached a shameful 8.8% in my state of Rhode Island last month - the highest in the country. Even people fortunate enough to be employed must grapple with sky-rocketing health insurance costs and food and energy prices much higher than they were eight years ago. People are suffering, and we understand that Congress must act to stimulate the sagging economy. I believe that the best way to energize the economy is to create jobs, and urge you to bring up job-creating stimulus legislation when the Senate reconvenes next month.
Fiscal stimulus legislation will be most effective if it focuses on several areas. First, we should focus on critically underfunded transportation and water infrastructure projects. For example, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, over 72,000 of our nation's highway bridges are structurally deficient - meaning that they are weight-restricted or require immediate rehabilitation. The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion of federal spending on infrastructure creates 35,000 new jobs, and according to a survey of state agencies, construction on up to $18 billion of transportation projects is "ready to go." We will have to do this water and transportation infrastructure work sooner or later; best to do it now when the economy so badly needs the jobs.
Second, many of our nation's schools are in poor condition, with structural and maintenance needs, and with significant opportunities for "greening" these structures. This "two-for" investment not only improves America's schools, but opens jobs to mid-size contractors ordinarily not engaged in major transportation and water infrastructure projects.
Another program that could play an important role in stimulating the economy is the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). I congratulate you on the increased funding for the WAP that was contained in the Continuing Resolution passed last month. However, additional funding for the WAP would not only create new jobs, but also lower oil demand and prices, and lower heating costs for families facing a cold winter with energy prices still significantly higher than last year. Funding for the WAP in stimulus legislation can help smaller local contractors with employment, for a more "grass-roots" stimulus.
Thank you for your hard work on developing economic stimulus legislation. I hope you will agree that transportation and water infrastructure projects for the big contractors, school improvement projects for the medium-sized contractors, and weatherization for small local contractors, can provide a blanket of valuable employment across our communities at this difficult time. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance.
United States Senator
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