It is fitting that we gather near the statue commemorating the Civilian Conservation Corps in Maine on the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1935 which created the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
At its peak, the WPA employed 20,000 people in Maine and resulted in $11.5 million in new investment in the state. Countless roads and bridges including the Deer Island Bridge and improvements to the Swinging Bridge between Topsham and Brunswick resulted from this program. WPA workers also built the first terminal at the Portland airport and extended the Bangor airport’s runways to accommodate commercial flights for the first time. Other visible projects include restoration of the Portland Observatory and the many beautiful murals that grace the State House and post offices all over Maine.
The WPA and the 1935 Relief Act accomplished a triple bottomline. It put people back to work, strengthened communities, and resulted in new infrastructure that contributed to future prosperity. Such vision and results are what we need today in the face of the Great Recession.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 15 million Americans, including 63,000 Mainers, are currently unemployed. About 20% of them have been unemployed longer than one year, a higher proportion than at any time since the 1930s. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed with the support of Maine’s entire delegation over a year ago, created or saved over 3.5 million jobs nationally by the end of 2010. This includes as many as 10,000 jobs saved or created in Maine. Still, Congress must do more to address the depths of this crisis.
Recently passed small business tax credits will modestly increase jobs and are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, temporary extensions of unemployment insurance and subsidies for COBRA health insurance were just that – temporary. The COBRA subsidies expired last week, and the Federal unemployment extensions expired yesterday. The Maine Department of Labor estimates that almost 4,000 Mainers will exhaust benefits this month and as many as 1,500 each week thereafter if Congress does not take action to extend these programs.
Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky and others have unconscionably blocked even 30 day extensions arguing that these emergency measures must be “offset.” Economists across the political spectrum agree that while long-term deficits need to be addressed, that goal should NOT obstruct short term emergency measures to sustain the unemployed and create jobs. Getting the economy growing again is the single best way to address deficits in the short-term. Recognizing this, we trust that Maine’s Senators will continue to support the extensions of unemployment insurance, COBRA subsidies and additional funding to states for Medicaid and TANF.
Even with these modest steps, the Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission predicts that very few jobs will be added in the Maine economy for another two years.
Congressman George Miller’s Local Jobs for America Act represents the kind of bold response needed to get the Maine and national economies delivering jobs for those without them. The bill is estimated to create or save 1 million jobs in local governments and more in indirect effects. We thank Representative Pingree for being one of 105 cosponsors. We urge Representative Mike Michaud and Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to support this critically important legislation.
We need the Local Jobs for America Act to put Mainers back to work.