With stimulus passed, now what?

Apollo Alliance Answers $789 billion Question

By Jerome Ringo

Today’s news is filled with images of an economy in crisis — shuttered factories, hollowed-out cities, and neighborhood blocks littered with foreclosure signs. Even before we heard the word “recession,” America’s workers were at the center of our country’s economic storm.

We’ve seen firsthand how quickly once-secure careers can be replaced by fleeting jobs. We know too many employers don’t respect the dignity of work and family. And every time we visit the grocery store or sit down to pay the bills, we’re finding it harder to stretch our paychecks to pay for rising food and fuel prices and exorbitant healthcare costs.

President Obama takes office at a time of unprecedented challenge for our country. We must not only reverse the short-term economic slump, but also re-focus our economy away from cheap fossil fuels and toward new, clean energy alternatives.

And so we at the Apollo Alliance are thrilled that after hearing the voices of labor, President Obama and Congress made passing the $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act a top priority. The Act addresses short term economic needs while laying out a path to a better future, with unprecedented new investments in energy efficiency, upgrades to the nation’s transmission grid, home energy makeovers for low-income families, and job training to create pathways out of poverty and into the career track of green jobs.

Good, “green-collar” jobs can and will be nearly everywhere in a new, clean energy economy – from manufacturing and installing wind turbines, to retrofitting residential and commercial buildings, to getting a 21st century electric grid on line. But we must step up the pressure to make sure the Recovery Act is only the beginning of a long term investment, and to ensure stimulus dollars create the maximum benefit for our economy and our families.

To that end, states and localities must follow these core principles in spending stimulus dollars:

Create Quality Green-Collar Jobs and Economic Growth.

Recovery Act funds should be directed toward creating “green-collar” jobs – jobs that are well-paid, on a career track, and contribute directly to preserving or enhancing our environmental quality. To help move more families into the middle class and spur economic growth, strong labor standards must be attached to all public investments. We must fund high-quality green jobs programs and projects that create jobs for unemployed, underemployed, and dislocated workers.

Ensure Transparency and Accountability.
The President and Congress tied Recovery Act funding to an unprecedented level of federal transparency and public accountability requirements. State and local policymakers should follow this model and employ the Internet and multi-stakeholder oversight bodies so taxpayers know how the money is being spent.

Benefit All Workers and Communities.
While hard times have fallen on every corner of the nation, some communities have suffered more than others. As we build a new clean energy economy, we can’t leave behind our rural families, urban centers, and communities of color. We must target investments toward creating jobs in areas with high layoff and unemployment rates, as well as heavily polluted areas and low income communities.

Rebuild America Clean and Green.
Every recovery dollar should be spent in a way that promotes climate stability and energy security by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. This means targeting transportation dollars to repair and upgrade projects and expanding public transit, and focusing environmental dollars on those projects that increase urban density and return vacant land to sustainable, productive use.

For all building construction projects, policymakers should exceed federal minimums and apply energy efficiency and “green building” standards to all projects funded by federal stimulus dollars. And policymakers at the federal, state and local level should incorporate American-made systems and component parts into all clean energy projects, to create manufacturing jobs while reducing carbon emissions and oil dependence.

Create Green Jobs at Scale.
The best way to create long-term growth, and to ensure that unions are a vital part of the green economy, is to fund projects of a large enough scale so that they can create multiple jobs and training opportunities. Combining stimulus programs and scaling up projects will create opportunities in fields such as energy efficiency retrofitting or solar panel installation. This will allow businesses to achieve economies of scale and allow job training programs to create career ladders into these professions for low-skill job seekers.

We are proud to have worked with you to create an unstoppable momentum for big changes in Washington. Now we must work together to ensure that our leaders seize the $789 billion opportunity to take America in a new clean and green direction.

Jerome Ringo is the President of the National Apollo Alliance, and a long-time African American environmentalist. In 2005, he was elected chair of the National Wildlife Federation, becoming the first African American to chair a major conservationist organization. The Apollo Alliance is a coalition of environmentalist, activist, labor organizations and business working to end the United States' dependency on foreign oil.

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