(NNPA) There are two bills in Congress now that could potentially put considerable new resources into communities with high unemployment around the country to create jobs. The first is the $118 billion bill, H. R. 4231, that is essentially designed to extend unemployment insurance and provide tax incentives to companies to create jobs. That is being put on the fast track to pass before politicians leave for the recess in June to campaign for re-election.
The second bill on the horizon however, is H. R. 4812 the Local Job Creation Act, a more far reaching bill that is the subject of a major effort by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC ) to get groups mobilized to support it. It is an important piece of legislation because it sends funds to localities targeted to places with high levels of unemployment and poverty.
A major recipient of such funding will be local government, not state governments, and a unique recipient will be non-profit community organizations that engage in local job creation.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recently sponsored a forum on Capitol Hill in collaboration with the CBC that featured mayors and economists, but also representatives of the unemployed, poor and homeless who told their stories. It built a strong foundation for the support of H.R. 4812.
The importance of this legislative proposal is that it breaks with 30 years of ineffective urban policy. When Ronald Reagan came into office, cities were put on the backburner of public policy because they were associated with Blacks who were becoming majorities and producing local officials.
So, the conservatives did not want to re-create President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society approach of funding Model Cities or a War on Poverty. Most of the money went to corporations large and small, to train inner city residents and employ them. In return, they became exempt from billions of dollars of taxes for creating jobs in what became known as Empowerment or Enterprise Zones. While Bill Clinton sent $100 million to six big cities (Chicago, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Atlanta), businesses received $17 billion (2002-2009).
However, in 2005 a critical study by Harvard University for the U. S. Department of Commerce surveyed these programs and found that they produced very little economic development in cities that benefited disadvantaged populations. There has been substantial agreement with its findings by researchers at the Brookings Institution, the Urban Institute and other authoritative organizations since 2005.
It is time for the White House Office on Urban Affairs to go back to what worked. Lyndon Johnson’s approach of direct funding for job creation helped to create a new Black middle class which cut the poverty rate from 50% in 1960 to 30 percent by the end of that decade. But like any bill that has the hint of spending money on people who need it most, the Blue Dog Conservative Democrats are opposing it unless it is paid for, that it means it must abide by the “pay-go” rule. However, Rep. Barbara Lee, is leading the CBC in trying to have this effort declared an “emergency” so that it does not have to conform to the Pay-go rules.
Blacks and others who live in the Congressional Districts of conservative Democrats must finally challenge them. For example, I previously have mentioned John Barrow, a leader of the Blue Dog coalition in the House, whose district (Georgia 12) has a 45 percent Black population. But there are other Blue Dog districts with over 30 percent Black population, such as: Jim Marshall Georgia 13, John Spratt S Carolina 5, and Bob Etheridge N Carolina 2.
With these healthy Black populations, how is it that they are unable to put pressure on these representatives to support H. R. 4812?
This legislation represents a prime target for all of those organizations, the churches, Greek letter, civic and others who would become active in helping the Black community to pull out of this crisis, not only in the short term, but potentially in the long run. The force of this struggle must be large enough to break through the conservative strangle hold on human needs public policy to show that there is a much larger constituency for the pain being felt by most Americans right now and that they do not privilege the size of the deficit over that pain. They never have.
Dr. Ron Walters is a political analyst and Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book Co-edited with Toni-Michelle Travis, is: Democratic Destiny and the District of Columbia.