Friday, March 27, 2009

Coffee cancelled due to weather

Remarkably, in what has been close to 40 “Coffee with Cleaver” events, this is the first time we are cancelling due to weather. Perhaps more remarkable is the foot of snow they are predicting for tomorrow. For those I am looking forward to seeing in Grandview, we have tentatively rescheduled tomorrow’s Coffee for April 18th at the same location 8-10 a.m., Harry’s MUG, 12222 Blue Ridge Ext.

Be safe tomorrow, and thank you for understanding.

The Green Impact Zone

Since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), I have spent a great deal of time trying to help our community position itself in the best possible place to take advantage of this huge federal investment.

To that end, I have been meeting with community leaders, city staff, elected officials locally and Cabinet and administration officials in Washington, D.C. to advance the idea of targeting stimulus investments in a way that maximizes and deepens the impact of every dollar.

As a result of these meetings, Resolution No. 090254 has been introduced to the Kansas City Council that will target a portion of millions in stimulus funds to a hard hit area of Kansas City. We are calling the area the “Green Impact Zone.”

Under this resolution the City Council commits to use a significant portion of the funds received under the ARRA for a focused area of the City bounded by 39th Street on the north, 51st Street on the south, Troost Avenue on the west and Prospect Avenue to 47th Street over to Swope Parkway on the east. Directly effected are the neighborhoods of Ivanhoe, Blue Hills, 49/63 and Manheim and Town Fork Creek, some of the City’ strongest neighborhood organizations.

Through community discussions convened by the Mid-America Regional Council, an overarching goal of training and putting residents of these neighborhoods to work weatherizing every home that is eligible within the Zone has been suggested.

This is no small task, but has the potential of reducing utility bills, conserving electricity and creating sustainable jobs for a portion of our community where unemployment is hovering between 20-50 percent.

In a community where every dollar counts, reducing utility bills by half would be a significant achievement. Creating thousands of jobs would be a godsend and making neighborhoods east of Troost that have been historically last now be first should bring us all to our feet.

As the discussions of the Green Impact Zone have progressed, excitement has built and partnerships have been forged. Kansas City Power and Light has stepped up to the plate and committed that, if the city is willing to adopt this plan, KCP&L is willing to invest and deploy a “Smart Grid” in the Zone. In addition to making investments to put solar panels on newly weatherized homes, a “Smart Grid” would allow each home to receive a credit for unused solar energy that can be stored in batteries to be used for the rest of the grid. Their commitment is to create a model of the energy grid of the future unlike any in the country.

From Public Works to Parks and Recreation, both government and private dollars will be leveraged to create green sustainable jobs, enhance the neighborhoods and create a model for the rest of the nation.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and business as usual will not be good enough. For too long — and I am certainly guilty of perpetuating the problem — our City has drawn down federal dollars divided equally by six Council Districts and weakened the effect of the investments. We must target our funds. This Resolution No. 090254 will do just that. Those throughout the country who have the plans and are ready to go will receive the most funding. The Green Impact Zone puts us at the front of the pack.

Thus far “green” investments have been reserved for those who can afford the upfront cost. In neighborhoods like these, where the median income is less than $20,000 a year, “greening” is simply not possible. This plan removes that burden and reduces the utility bills for those who need it most. With job training, neighborhood stabilization and infrastructure investments targeted here, “green” is no longer an academic concept for someone else — it becomes a means to change peoples lives right here in our urban core.

Let us seize this giant opportunity to create a better future and show America, when it comes to “green” we are in the lead.

Turn out the Lights

In what promises to be the largest demonstration of public concern about climate change ever attempted, tomorrow, citizens around the world are encouraged to turn out the lights for an “Earth Hour” on Saturday, March 28, at 8.30 p.m. Billions could be flipping the switch with you across the globe.

This year, Earth Hour has been transformed into the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming.

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, races and backgrounds have the opportunity to use their light switches as their votes – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming. I urge you, of course to VOTE EARTH and help reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

A year ago, I encouraged you to do the same thing and an estimated 50 million people worldwide joined in turning off their lights. This year, U.N. headquarters in New York will turn off the lights, along with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Here in Kansas City the lights on City Hall and the Convention Center space stations will be turned off. Special thanks to Cathy Jolly and the City Council for leading the effort at the City.

I have asked that the federal buildings in Missouri’s Fifth District turn off their lights during this year’s Earth Hour, and the General Services Administration has answered the call. Federal property managers will turn off as many lights as possible from 8:30 to 9:30. Only in cases where the lights are on for security measures or building safety will they be left on.

I am very proud our GSA will cast its vote for the Earth, and prouder still of their commitment to energy efficiency. According to Charlie Cook at our GSA, their energy conservation program began in 1973. Since then, cost-avoidance and energy-conservation measures have delivered more than $2.25 billion in savings nationwide. Between 1985 and 2005, GSA successfully reduced energy consumption in federal buildings by 30 percent, and their efforts are continuing. The ARRA committed $4.5 billion for GSA to spend on turning existing federal facilities into high-performing green buildings.

So, remember to cast your vote for the Earth tomorrow and turn off your lights from 8:30-9:30 p.m. Thank you!

Friday, March 20, 2009

MODOT adopts flawed plan

Yesterday evening in Springfield, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MoDOT) gave approval to their final list of transportation projects to be funded by economic recovery funds. MoDOT estimates it will directly or indirectly support 22,000 jobs. I think there could have been more.

The project package totals $577 million, $52 million more than the $525 million MoDOT was allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The department built in additional money in its proposal that assumes it will qualify for redistribution of funds from other states if they become available. It may be ambitious to think that that much money will be returned from states who do not utilize their funds.

I will say that MoDOT’s urgency is well placed. The bill, approved by Congress, dictated that 50 percent of the stimulus funds must be obligated by June 30 (90 days), and all money must be obligated by March 2, 2010.

In addition, the allocations became even more complex because projects also had to meet all federal regulations, including environmental clearances, contracting requirements and air quality rules.

But there were additional requirements that MoDOT seems to have read as merely suggestions. The release from MoDOT that came out last night reads:

“Once those requirements were met, ARRA said consideration should be given to projects that could be completed within three years. It also said consideration should be given to projects that would maximize job creation and economic benefit. Additionally, it said that improvements located in economically distressed areas should be considered.”

Actually, the bill does not just require “consideration” it requires that “priority” be given to projects that can be completed in three years and are located in economically distressed areas. (P.L. 111-5, pages 92-93 reads: “that in selecting projects to be carried out with funds appropriated under this heading, priority shall be given to projects that are projected for completion within a 3-year time frame, and are located in economically distressed areas as defined by section 301 of the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965.”)
Giving priority and merely considering are very different things.

It is yet to be determined if MoDOT’s adopted plan violates the letter of the law, but it certainly violates the spirit of the law. Currently, of the $577 million MoDOT has discretion in programming, $199 million is being spent in 14 'non-distressed' counties. The other 100 'distressed' counties are sharing the remaining funds. If Missouri doesn’t follow the intent of the law, a couple of concerns arise. The Secretary of Transportation could say they need to redraw the plan which will make it hard to get the money out in 90 days. But the underlying concern is that if money doesn’t go to the parts of the state most in need the stimulus may not work.

For all the games and pontificating on this issue on both sides of the aisle, we all need the stimulus to work or we'll be staring at 10-plus-percent unemployment. Today MARC announced we are already at 8.2% unemployment. That is my main concern. Yes, I want MoDOT to follow the law and be fair and equitable, but more than that, the money should be spent where it is needed most because I want it to actually stimulate the economy as it is designed.

The plan announced yesterday represents some progress. When the initial list was released, Missouri's Fifth District was slated to receive $44 million in stimulus dollars for two major projects. Since I raised concerns about intent and equity, the district is up to $69 million and five major projects. It is progress, but I think distressed areas, like ours, should still be getting more and I am making that case.

There are very few things I would ever say we have in common with St.Louis — they have annoying sports teams, sub-par barbeque and a foreign owned beer-maker. However, on the issue of distressed areas being shortchanged in favor of non-distressed with stimulus money we are in agreement. Since Mayor Slay took to the airwaves his city's allocation has gone up by $12 million and my complaints have led to $25 million more for us. I cannot speak for Mayor Slay, but I am not done fighting.

My staff and I have attended meetings and spoken with MoDOT multiple times during their process leading to this point. When asked to give input, we have raised our concerns, among them is at first read it does not appear that appropriate priority has been given to distressed areas or job creation as directed by the law.

Let me be crystal clear. It is not my money and it is not MoDOT’s money. It is your money. I am concerned the people I represent are not seeing their federal tax dollars being used for their benefit. If the state of Missouri is going to gain public money to stimulate the economy the money should be used in the way it was originally prescribed to fulfill the obligation they assumed by accepting it.

Our economic crisis is not a game and the actions of MoDOT do not serve the people of Missouri or my district well. Wednesday, I met with Attorney General Holder to discuss this matter and will be meeting with Secretary of Transportation LaHood next week.

Return the bonuses

This week saw a disturbing trend continue as we were once again confronted with extraordinary abuses of the public trust by companies rewarding employees with excessive compensation while receiving billions in taxpayer assistance. In response, yesterday the House passed H.R. 1586 to hold companies, including American International Group (AIG), accountable for the bonuses that were paid to their executives.

In a move that just leaves us all shaking our heads, after receiving more than $170 billion in taxpayer funds, AIG paid $165 million in retention payments to executives – most of whom have mismanaged their company into near bankruptcy. The top recipient received more than $6.4 million and more than 73 of these executives were paid over $1 million in retention bonuses. After receiving their retention bonuses, at least eleven recipients left the company.
There is plenty of blame to go around for how this happened. Congress should have restricted this behavior in law. The Treasury should have seen the contracts before they were approved. But let’s take a moment to marvel at the sheer audacity of AIG. After receiving $170 billion in taxpayer dollars, they appear to have learned no lessons and continued to succumb to the greed that led to their failure in the first place.

There is an argument that we should have anticipated their callous disregard for the taxpayer, but it is hard to imagine this level of arrogance.

The bill passed in response to the actions of AIG does the following:

HR 1586 recovers the bulk of these bonuses by applying a separate income tax rate of 90 percent to bonuses received by individuals from companies which have received at least $5 billion from TARP. It would also apply to bonuses paid by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

  1. For this purpose, bonuses will be defined as any retention payment, incentive payment, or other bonus which is in addition to regular employee compensation payable on a periodic basis
  2. The special tax rate only applies to individuals and families with income (including bonuses) in excess of $250,000
  3. The bill applies to bonuses paid after December 31, 2008
  4. Any individual who received a bonus from a qualifying company who repays the bonus during the same tax year it was given would not be subject to the 90 percent rate.
You can read the full bill text here >>>

Friday, March 13, 2009

Change Via Amendment

This week, on top of the passage of the Omnibus Appropriations bill, I worked on two amendments to the Water Quality Investment Act that would help our community. The way that the Congress works makes it often difficult to pass stand alone bills unless one is on the committee of jurisdiction for an issue. In this case, while we have large water quality needs in the District, I am not on the committee that oversees the issue. Thus, my work has to come by way of amendment. You may remember that the CLEAR Act, requiring that Members of Congress lease only low emission vehicles, was passed as amendment as well.

I point this out to highlight the impact a small change in the law can make. This week, one of my proposed amendments passed and moves to the Senate as part of the bill and the other was ruled out of order. Now, I will begin the work of making sure the Senate retains the one that passed and think about another way to do the one that did not.

Earlier in the week I was able to announce nearly $37 million in earmarks, but the amendment that passed makes available hundreds of millions for Kansas City for their Combined Sewer problem — the largest public works project in the city’s history.

It is a bit frustrating, with so much focus on earmarks and the city’s local budget problems, this huge bit of news and stream of funding gets overlooked.

Amendments are not sexy and the process is complicated and hard to explain. But, with a little creativity and perseverance big change can happen with small adjustments.

Amendment means more money for ‘green’ sewer plan

Yesterday, I was able to win approval of an amendment that would designate 20% of the $2.5 billion dollars devoted to funding municipal Combined and Sanitary Sewer Overflow plans in the Water Quality Investment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1262), to green solutions.

This strikes a reasonable balance between green infrastructure and traditional control systems, as both have a role in creating a sustainable and workable solution to sewer overflows.

Chairman James Oberstar (MN-08) of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-03) of the Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee agreed to incorporate the amendment into the manager’s amendment offered on the Floor of the House. Inclusion in the manager’s amendment increased the chances of passage and I would like to thank Chairman Oberstar and Chairwoman Bernice Johnson for embracing this amendment and advocating for its inclusion in the bill. Their help was crucial in achieving passage of this important measure.

As many of you know, in order to comply with the Clean Water Act of 1972, the City of Kansas City has developed a plan that will cost $2.4 billion over 25 years. The Combined Sewer Overflow plan represents the largest capital project the city has ever undertaken. Last May, I was very public in urging the Mayor and City Council to adopt the “greenest plan possible.”

When I encouraged the City to include more ‘green’ solutions in its Combined Sewer Overflow Plan, I promised the City that the path to ‘green’ would yield more opportunities for federal funding. This is the first step in keeping that promise. I said I would fight tooth-and-nail for money if the City advanced the vision of a healthier, more sustainable and greener future. This amendment makes Kansas City’s commitment to green pay off with a better chance at millions of federal dollars. I would like to thank the Kansas City Council, and particularly the hard work of Councilwoman Jan Marcason, for leading the City towards a greener future.

The Water Quality Investment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1262), including my amendment, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 317 to 101 and now moves to the Senate for approval.

Fighting for an innovative Jackson County funding stream

This week, I also introduced an amendment that proposed an innovative and, I am sure my colleagues thought, unique solution to help budget strapped Jackson County. The amendment had the potential of contributing nearly $10 million ($9,596,611.61) to improvements and maintenance at Blue Springs and Longview Lakes. Sadly the Rules Committee ruled the amendment out of order.

Most of you are probably not aware that the two lakes, while operated by Jackson County Parks and Recreation, are actually leased from the Corps of Engineers for a period of 50 years. In short, the amendment ordered that half of the County’s future payments to the Corp of Engineers be redirected to capital improvements, flood control, maintenance and upkeep on the properties.

Even with the redirection, the plan would have provided the Army Corps with over $6.5 million ($6,504.447.80) in surplus over cost during the remaining course of the lease. From this reinvestment, Longview Lake would receive $5.3 million ($5, 294, 483.88) of redirected payments and Blue Springs Lake would receive $4.3 million ($4,302,127.74) as part of the plan.

I think this idea is a win-win. The Corps of Engineers is fully reimbursed for its initial outlay of funds with interest, and the County gets to re-invest some of the funds it is contractually obligated to pay into these two great Jackson County assets. While the Rules Committee may have ruled this attempt out of order, I am going to keep trying. The idea just makes a great deal of sense.

Under the plan we proposed:

Longview Lake:

Total Balance Remaining on the Lease: $10,588,967.77

With Amendment Total to be Paid to Corps: $12,962,357.10

Reinvestment in County with Amendment: $5,294,483.88 (50% of balance)

Surplus to Army Corps Over Costs: $3,852,664.10

Blue Springs Lake:

Total Balance Remaining on the Lease: $8,604,255.46

With Amendment Total to be Paid to Corps: $9,575,703.70

Reinvestment in County with Amendment: $4,302,127.73 (50% of balance)

Surplus to Army Corps Over Costs: $2,651,783.70

Though the Rules Committee ruled the amendment out of order, I look forward to working with my fellow Members and my local County Executive as we continue to think outside the box to make this idea work.

Over $36 million in federal earmarks for local priorities

Tuesday, Congress passed the Omnibus Appropriations bill for the federal government. This $410 billion budget funds the functions of the federal government for FY 2009. This bill was not completed last year like it should have been because of disagreements with the prior administration.

This bill does a great deal of good that you have probably not heard about because so much time has been devoted to earmarks. It is sad; far more time has been spent talking about the less than one percent of the budget that is earmark spending than the 99 percent in the rest of the bill. The portion of the bill not covered on CNN includes investments in:

Energy Security: Increases funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts, to increase the production of clean, efficient, American energy key to our long term economic security.

Scientific Research: Makes strong investments into cutting edge science so that our nation will maintain its preeminence in the global economy.

Healthcare Access and Affordability: Improves access to quality, affordable healthcare.

Education to Promote Opportunity: Promotes our future economic strength by investing in K-12 education and helping families send their kids to college.

Workers: Helps American workers in the tough economy train for and find good jobs in safe workplaces.

Safe and Healthy America: Protects Americans by investing in programs to ensure clean air and water, and the safety of our food, medicine and consumer products.

A Critical Look: The bill cuts and eliminates programs that haven’t performed the way they should, and includes strict accountability measures to ensure American tax dollars are spent wisely. It invests in oversight efforts carried out by the Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office.

Regulation for an Economy in Chaos: Strengthens regulatory agencies that had been neglected, to beef up their efforts during the economic crisis.

But, since so much time was spent on the one percent that earmarks represent, before I tell you about the projects I was able to fund, I want to say a few more words in their defense. The same thing Newt Gingrich famously did in the Republican Revolution of 1994 is being done now when it comes to earmarks. It is expedient for some to pit the people against their own government, to wear the cloak of an outsider while telling the mayors of our cities and volunteers of our not-for-profits that Washington knows best. Please forgive me for being skeptical we will get our fair share if we leave this to people who couldn’t find Sugar Creek on a map.

Earmarks are simply a part of a Congressional process to allocate funding for particular purposes. Eliminating the allocation does not decrease the appropriation; it simply leaves the allocation decision to a federal department or agency rather than to Congress. In other words, taking away earmarks takes your tax dollars and puts the choice to spend them in the hands of someone you did not elect to represent you.

I know it is unpopular to publicly say earmarks are needed. However, if not for earmarks, where would Kansas City, struggling with an $85 million shortfall, find the money to repair its levees to protect lives and property? At a time when charitable giving is down, I was able to secure federal dollars for battered women’s shelters and homeless assistance. If not in this bill, where will that money come from? If I can’t find money for the historic building that is crumbling on top of the players at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, where will it come from?

Megan Cloherty at Fox 4 did a very nice piece on some of this years recipients and I encourage you to take a look if you missed it. >>

So, here is the complete list of projects in our community I was able to secure funding for. I think they are worthy causes and good uses of federal tax dollars. I stand behind each of them.

$380,000 for reStart in Kansas City. The funds will provide for facility improvements. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senator Bond and Congressmen Graves.

$5.106 Million for the Missouri River from Rulo to Mouth. Funds will provide repairs to the Missouri River dikes and revetments. Nearly 300 structures are deficient and need repair to ensure reliable navigation within the river and to provide protection of the high bank of the river. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senators Bond, Harkin, Grassley, Hagel and Congressmen Cleaver and Hulshof.

$1.627 Million for Blue River Channel Modification. The funds will continue construction of channel modification and grade control structures on the Blue River. Funds will also construct the final mile of channel modification and initiate construction of grade control structures. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senator Bond.

$84,000 for the Missouri River Bed Degradation. Funds will be used to investigate Missouri River bed degradation from above Kansas City through Jefferson City and recommend economic and environmentally friendly solutions. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senators Bond, Brownback, Roberts and Congressmen Graves and others.

$100,000 for Line Creek Watershed. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Congressman Graves.

$9.57 Million for Turkey Creek in Kansas City Kansas and Missouri. Funds will provide for completion of the Turkey Creek Tunnel, two railroad substructures critical to channel improvement, complete the adjacent levee, and continue design of the channel modifications. Periodic flooding within the lower two miles of Turkey Creek Basin impacts a significant industrial and commercial corridor along SW Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senators Bond and Roberts and Congressman Moore.

$2.871 Million for the Blue River Basin Dodson Industrial District. The funds will continue construction of flood damage reduction features. Construction is of an earthen levee to connect floodwalls to achieve flood damage benefits. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senator Bond.

$1.196 Million for the Feasibility Study of a Phase II Levee in Kansas City. The funds will continue a feasibility study. Levees currently protect more than $16 billion of commercial and residential infrastructure in Kansas City. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senators Bond and Roberts and Congressmen Graves and Moore.

$638,000 for Swope Park Industrial Area. The funds will begin construction for flood damage reduction features. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senator Bond.

$262,000 for the Brush Creek Basin. Funds will provide a study to examine structural and nonstructural measures to reduce recurring flood damages in the Brush Creek Basin, considering environmental ecosystem restoration, water quality improvement, bi-state watershed cooperation, and compatible recreation development. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds in conjunction with Senators Bond, Brownback and Congressman Moore.

$381,000 for the Full Employment Council for “green collar” job training.

$95,000 for the Black Health Care Coalition to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) among inner city residents of Kansas City, Missouri. This Community Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program will link community outreach workers promoting awareness of modifiable CVD risk factors and screening to appropriate evaluation and treatment. The program’s success will be evaluated for not only referral success but follow up attention and remediation of initial risk factors.

$143,000 for the Historic Jazz Foundation/Mutual Musicians Foundation Musical History Project. The Foundation has been working to properly display and archive their still photos and has been collecting live performances on film for the benefit of future generations of jazz enthusiasts. Work needs to be done on both the facility and collection.

$190,000 for Newhouse, a domestic violence shelter for women and children in Kansas City to renovate and upgrade the 86-bed facility to make the building more inhabitable, to lengthen the life of the building, and to comply with health and safety standards; and implement an energy efficient plan that will reduce the cost of utilities for years in the future.

$200,000 for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation/LISC Neighborhood Safety Program. The requested funding will assist with community organizing and crime and safety initiatives in 4 targeted KCMO neighborhoods, working with community policing and residents to reduce elements of crime and to assist in ensuring safe neighborhoods for residents. This resident-led initiative will provide tools and training to neighborhood leaders, including Neighborhood Watch programs, and apply technology such as cameras and neighborhood wi-fi capability to identify high crime areas and criminal traffic patterns, and other innovative programs/tools which are identified as needs within 4 neighborhoods through their Quality of Life Planning.

951,500 for the National Nuclear Security Administration Kansas City Plant, operated by Honeywell for their Multi-Disciplined Integrated Collaborative Environment (MDICE) Project. Continues work begun In FY08 to develop a collaborative environment to enable robust management and visualization of electrical and mechanical data types at the systems level. The project reduces cost and waste.

$300,000 for YMCA of Greater KC, Youth Summer Prevention Programs. The Hot Summer Nights program is designed to provide a safe alternative to life on the streets for teenagers and young adults in five communities in Kansas City, Missouri. Its purpose will be to equip youth with self-confidence and skills which will help them meet life's challenges. The program will focus on building self-confidence and self-image while serving the Linwood, Southtown, Independence, Raytown, and Gladstone areas of Kansas City.

$475,000 for the City of Kansas City for improvements at Brush Creek and Troost.

$285,000 for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority Bus Replacement Program.

$125,000 for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to complete the Troost Bus Rapid Transit project.

$11.5 Million for the National Rural Water Association which provides technical assistance, source water protection and ground water protection efforts small communities. The need for rural water on-site technical assistance continues to increase with the expansion of federal drinking water regulations and more stringent waste water permits. The main source of assistance for compliance with these mandates has been and will continue to be the efforts of state rural water associations including Missouri’s. Congressman Cleaver secured these funds along with Senators Bond, Barrasso, Biden, Bingaman, Brown, Brownback, Bunning, Cantwell, Chambliss, Clinton, Coleman, Collins, Conrad, Cornyn, Craig, Dodd, Dole, Dorgan, Durbin, Ensign, Enzi, Grassley, Hagel, Harkin, Hatch, Inhofe, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Landrieu, Leahy, Levin, Lincoln, Lugar, Murkowski, Murray, Menendez, Nelson, Pryor, Reed, Roberts, Salazar, Sanders, Schumer, Shelby, Smith, Gordon, Snowe, Specter, Stabenow, Sununu, Tester, Thune, Voinovich, Webb, Wicker, Wyden and Representatives Aderholt, Arcuri, Etheridge, LoBiondo, McHugh, Murphy.

TOTAL: $36,379,500

Friday, March 06, 2009

Helping Families Save Their Homes Act

Yesterday, I voted for a key piece of anti-foreclosure legislation, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 (H.R. 1106). The bill passed the House by a vote of 234 to 191.

The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act will put in place a key first piece of President Obama´s comprehensive Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan. I believe it will help a great many families in our community stay in their homes. Before I go too much further on this bill, I would like to urge those of you who are in trouble with your mortgage to visit to take an eligibility quiz for homeowners struggling to make their payments. It went live yesterday and should serve as a good first resource.

I have come to you each week for the last 6 months in this newsletter to talk to you about the dire economic situation we find ourselves in. The housing crisis is the root of the problem and until we stop the hemorrhaging we cannot hope to stabilize and rescue our economy.

On the floor yesterday, I told the story of one of our neighbors who was robbed by mortgage brokers behaving like criminals. Please take a moment to read about Sherrita Richardson here >>

Sherrita, a Kansas City bus driver with four children, found out that her home in the 3400 block of East 60th Street is worth half or less than half of what she paid for it because of an inflated appraisal.

Every 13 seconds, another American family loses their home to foreclosure. As of this morning, there were 5,228 homes in foreclosure in Jackson County, and another 523 in Cass County. Foreclosures uproot families and destroy neighborhoods. There are certainly plenty of people who knowingly got in over their heads, but foreclosures depress all our property values. You can be current on your loan and be doing all the right things, but each foreclosed home in the U.S. reduces nearby property values by as much as 9 percent.

The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act seeks to help the estimated 7- 9 million households facing possible foreclosure by including key incentives that encourage lenders to renegotiate affordable mortgages for homeowners who are underwater, at risk of foreclosure, and those nearing bankruptcy.

Specifically, the bill fixes the Hope for Homeowners program, implemented October 1, 2008, which was designed to get more families into affordable mortgages by reducing current fees that have discouraged lenders from voluntarily participating and offering new incentives for lenders to negotiate loans.

To further encourage participation in this program, the bill protects lenders from lawsuits for modifying loans. This will make reasonable loan modifications available to many more homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

To help families who have exhausted options for relief, the bill also allows bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of a loan for existing primary residence mortgages. This is what is known as the “cram-down” provision.

Currently, the mortgage for a primary residence cannot be modified in bankruptcy—unlike every other secured debt – including debts secured by second homes, investment properties, luxury yachts, and private jets. It gives families who own one home the same rights to keep their home as someone who owns two or three houses.

Stabilizing the housing market is central to restoring the American economy. We all stand to lose if we do not stop the steep decline in home prices.

An estimated 14 million homeowners in America owe more than their home is worth and many cannot refinance into an affordable mortgage.

Some homebuyers were able to make their mortgage payments until they lost their job or their income dropped. Others were victims of predatory lending by banks and are now stuck with unaffordable subprime mortgages, in danger of losing their home, through no fault of their own.

Either way, these homeowners now face foreclosure—a devastating event for a family and one that has negative implications for neighbors through depressed housing values, vacant homes, and a loss of tax revenue for local schools. Anything we can do to stop this cycle we have to pursue, or we will not find the bottom of this economy and begin our recovery.

My earmarks in the 2009 Omnibus bill

Last week the House passed the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill for the federal government and forwarded it to the Senate, where it has stalled. The current operating budget is set to expire at midnight tonight, and without action to either pass the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill or pass yet another Continuing Resolution (CR), the U.S. Government will grind to a halt.
Because of the continuing deadlock in the Senate, a short-term continuing appropriations resolution was introduced this morning in the House. The measure is now H. J. Res. 38, and provides funding through Wednesday, March 11, for programs and agencies normally covered by the nine regular FY 2009 appropriations bills that have not been enacted.

The House passed the CR this afternoon. The measure is intended to provide time for the Senate to complete action on H.R. 1105, Omnibus Appropriations for FY 2009. After spending the weekend thinking on the bill, the Senate is expected to continue consideration of H.R. 1105 on Monday.

At the heart of the Senate deliberations are earmarks. As you know, since they were submitted to me, each of the earmarks requested from my office has been on our website. In fact the new site has a whole page devoted to the Appropriations process, and every project we received a request for can be found there >>>

I am as transparent and open as any Member of Congress on this issue, and as straightforward as I can be about my desire to bring home federal dollars. As you can see by the sheer scope of the requests I received, there are serious budget shortfalls in our community, and the need for federal money is greater than ever.

I will, and have, proudly defended my requests on the floor, have answered questions from my colleagues, and have welcomed a public vote on each of them. In fact, Senator John McCain questioned my request for funds for the Mutual Musicians Foundation. I welcomed the discussion and the Senate saw fit to retain the funding for one of our city’s oldest and most storied gems.

The Constitution gives the Congress the responsibility of appropriating and finding revenue to fund the priorities of the nation. The Constitution allows for a mechanism to discuss, enact and amend legislation, including the budget.

Apparently the same mechanism of committee hearings, debate, and approval followed by debate and votes in both chambers and signature by the President that prevails when Congress decides how many stealth fighters and armored vehicles to purchase is inadequate when it comes to deciding if a domestic violence shelter in Kansas City should be funded. I have no idea why, according to those who rail against earmarks, the Congress is capable of deciding funding priorities of 99 percent of the nation’s budget, but is somehow unable to discuss and decide the funding for that last 1 percent called earmarks.

This is a representative democracy. We elect people to represent our needs and concerns and advocate for those needs and concerns in Congress. As a body, the Congress examines request for funding and either votes to fund or decline to fund projects across our nation.

I have little sympathy for those who will fight against earmarks on the floor and gladly take them home to their districts. And I have little understanding of those who will pick earmarks apart on the floor of the chamber and then claim they have not been examined.

I say this. The people I am proud to represent have submitted their needs and desires in a public process. I have advocated for their priorities and asked that those priorities be funded with their tax dollars. I have debated anyone who has challenged the merits of these projects publicly. If I can convince a majority of the Members of the House and Senate that the priorities of my constituents are worth funding, then that, my friends, is democracy as defined by the Constitution.

I have been able to secure $35,428,000 in federal funds for specific projects for our community in the Omnibus Appropriations for FY 2009 as passed this week by the House of Representatives. Early next week I should know if they will remain in the Senate version and be passed into law.