This country desperately needs to overhaul our health care system. There is no doubt about that.
But Congress is also taking on another issue that is as important to the well-being of our communities: creating jobs.
And unlike health care reform, which has been plagued by divisive politicking, some practical, concrete solutions to unemployment can garner support from both parties.
There are two bright spots shining through the partisan funk on Capitol Hill this week.
Tomorrow the Congressional Black Caucus is holding a forum on the chronically unemployed. The CBC's efforts to represent the needs of the most vulnerable communities - the poor and communities of color - are desperately needed in the Washington debate over jobs legislation.
Unemployment for African-American workers has risen to 15.8 percent, up from 9 percent in December 2007. Youth, women, and Latinos are also particularly hard-hit by the economic recession. The Congressional Black Caucus's dedication to finding solutions for the chronically unemployed is critical to creating lasting and equitable prosperity for America's communities.
Then on Thursday, the House is holding a hearing on Home Star. This fast-acting program will spur job growth, hiring, consumer saving on utility bills, and home improvements.
Home Star is a win, win, win for workers, consumers, and the environment.
Here's how it works. The Home Star program provides homeowners with rebates of up to $3,000 or up to $8,000 to pay for energy-saving home improvements (also know as "energy-efficiency retrofits"). Through these improvements, consumers use the same amount of heating, cooling, lighting, appliances, etc. - they just burn less energy doing it. That means consumers save money on their energy bills as they create the demand for workers to do the upgrades.
Home Star rebates will spark hiring in construction, a sector that has been particularly hard hit by unemployment, as well as manufacturing and construction retail.
All in all, Home Star is projected to create 168,000 jobs, improve 3.3 million homes, and save homeowners $9.4 billion in energy costs over 10 years. And the energy saved through Home Star will replace the need for 4 large, polluting power plants, making it a win for the environment as well.
Beyond these basics, there are a couple additional reasons Home Star makes for smart job-creation policy. The program picks up where the Recovery Act will leave off, creating jobs for weatherization workers as Recovery funds ramp down. And built-in incentives for contractors will ensure that low-income workers being trained now will have jobs when their training is complete. Also, Home Star's quality assurance provisions promote opportunities for minority contractors.
Home Star is a promising step in the right direction. It advances solutions to our jobs and environmental crises that make sense for everyone.
With the Congressional Black Caucus simultaneously taking on chronic unemployment this week, there is reason to believe Congress may soon enact real solutions that create economic opportunity for America's communities.
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