|Issue of the Day Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category|
A new Highway Bill Reauthorization making its way through Congress seeks to add order to chaos by clarifying the massive $135 billion in funding that came with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Chief Economist of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) states that 50% of the money for projects must be earmarked or obligated within six months or else states lose the funding. The stipulation is intended to force states to identify projects quickly that are eligible for job creation and economic stimulus.
The ARRA provided $48 billion for transportation investments: $27.5 billion for highways; $8.4 billion for public transportation; $9.3 billion for passenger rail; and $1.3 billion for airport infrastructure. Of the bill’s highway funds, roughly $18 billion provides funds directly to states, and half of these funds had to be earmarked in 120 days. The remaining $9 billion in state funds and the $8 billion given to local governments must be earmarked within one year of the bill’s enactment. States and localities that do not meet these deadlines will have their funds redistributed to other states.
Recovery Act Offers New Opportunities for Grant Seekers
Published Monday, August 10th, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Education has conducted an analysis of 41 audits and 13 investigations that took place during 2003-2009. The data suggest that there are various weaknesses in the administration of grants by state and local education agencies. Due to the Recovery Act, agencies will receive increases in funding, and the OIG has recommended that Departments enhance the guidance or grant requirements, fraud awareness and prevention.
Also, a new feature on www.grants.gov will help users find and apply for all grant funding available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This includes a series of webinars and links including topics like Introduction to Grants.gov and the Recovery Act, Finding Recovery Act Opportunities and Registration to Submit Recovery Act Opportunities. All in an effort to release Recovery funding quicker and create jobs faster.
Federal research and grant funding for all but the life sciences and engineering have remained relatively steady since 1980, increasing only with the rate of inflation. The life sciences have gained the most and had spiked after 2000 to reach $30 billion as of 2004, declining to $27 billion in 2007. The engineering sector has not lost any steam, gaining in the last 10 years to hit $10 billion. With the Recovery Act, many fields will see more funding, although it will be a while before the figures are published and results are analyzed.
Departments with Largest Recovery Monies Nearly 50% Paid Out
Published Friday, July 31st, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
According to the Obama Administration’s website Recovery.gov, federal agencies receiving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 funds are submitting weekly financial and activity reports detailing their recovery activities. These reports are supposed to update government officials, Congress, and the public on how much is being spent. They also list the agencies’ completed and planned actions related to the Recovery Act. The spending data covers total dollars made available and total dollars paid out. Along with the data are links to Inspectors General pages: Findings, Status Reports, Recovery Plans, Testimony, and Government Accountability Office Findings. Report misuse of Recovery funds to Inspectors General Hotlines and find Whistleblower Information. And there are links to State Recovery Sites and Tribal News to learn about recovery progress in your area.
The Departments and Agencies with the largest monies made available are the Department of Education at $55.093 billion, and they have used about 20% to date, the Department of Health and Human Services at $41.254 billion (60% used), the Department of Labor at $23.458 billion (50% used), the Department of Transportation at $22.663 billion (45% used), and the Social Security Administration at $13.112 billion (98% used). This is on top of yearly federal budget spending per program.
This week, President Obama is holding talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev regarding the further reduction of nuclear stockpiles. In a press briefing, both presidents expressed a desire to “reset” their relationship and work together on global issues that Russia called their “special responsibility.” One of the more pressing issues is the deadline for the START I treaty, which is to expire on December 5. Both Presidents signed a joint understanding that called for a legally binding treaty. The provisions call for the US and Russia to reduce their respective strategic warheads to a range of 1,000 to 1,675 — down from 2,200 — and their delivery vehicles to a range of 500 to 1,100. The previous START I treaty allowed for a maximum of 2,200 warheads and 1,600 vehicles.
Russia and the United States are the leading repositories of active and inactive nuclear warheads, topping out at 16,000 and 9960 respectively, followed far behind by France and the United Kingdom at around 200 warheads. The US campaign for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons has taken a more active role in reducing weapons as spending for the Defense program doubled from $874 million to $1,726 million in 2007. Plus, what the US does have in warheads is maintained by $5 billion in test and analysis each year to ensure they are still viable weapons; reports for Russian spending for maintaining their stockpile is not available.
The news of unemployment may be all around us right now, but what is not really understood is the makeup of the unemployment percentage. The overall number is just that: a composite of different numbers, averaged together, and displayed as a percentage of the overall unemployed among the labor force. For example, “The Labor Force” is just a way of describing us all, blue collar and white collar. Yet, there are those who can withstand recession woes (who can save for a rainy day) and those who cannot (check to check living). What is missing from that single unemployment percentage number is that the recession does not hit everyone equally.
The pre-recession unemployment was at 5% of the overall labor force. Yet, now we are edging on 9.4% unemployment with 5.7 million jobs lost since the beginning of the recession, as May provided 345,000 new jobless claims. Making up a majority of those in the unemployment line are manufacturing and construction workers who tend to be less educated and/or recent immigrants. For minorities such as the black and Latino groups, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the rate of unemployment is edging on 20%, leading many to fall instantly into poverty and straining State budgets.
From the state of Vermont comes the Vermont Energy Act of 2009, which will create and regulate new 10-20 year contracts—25 years for solar projects—for the sale of power produced by owners of small renewable energy facilities. So-called “Feed-in Tariffs” are used to encouraged the installation of grid-connected renewable energy systems by both individuals and businesses by making such systems a profitable investment and guaranteeing income that can help attract financing. Currently, Vermont’s Feed-In systems are at 2.2 megawatts capacity; the act sets a cap of 50 megawatts for such contracts. The linchpin for Governor Jim Douglas was the Act’s provision that the Vermont Public Services Board adjust the preliminary standard rates—varying by method of generation—set by the legislature.
Renewable energy is a priority policy issue for the Obama Administration. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides over $45 billion to encourage renewable energy production, which includes $4.5 billion for the creation of a smart grid to handle today’s generation needs. Renewable energy generation accounts for 7% of our total generation output in 2008; this is a product of a revival in renewable energy after a 12% drop in net generation in 2000. Sources of renewable energy include biogenic waste, geothermal, hydroelectric, solar and wind.
The idea that pre-school should be as universal as K-12 has been getting ever more attention by educators and public officials. The thinking is for government to provide education to all 4-year-olds in an effort to close the school-readiness gaps that exist and persist beyond kindergarten. The Obama administration has stated that early childhood education is one of the top priorities of his term, and the federal government intends to spend an additional $10 billion per year on enhancing early childhood education. A report by the Rand Corporation states that the achievement gap can be narrowed by 10 to 20% by increasing the number of underprivileged children attending pre-schools and by improving the quality of education.
School readiness studies measure a child’s ability to recognize letters, count to 20 or higher, write their own name and/or pretends to read. A child’s ability to accomplish these tasks rests on a myriad of conditions including gender; females out-perform males in almost every category for the last 13 years. Children of a two parent home fair 4-7% better at all skills measured than those of single or no parent households. Household income also impacts readiness since those above the poverty threshold are found to possess skills 15% more than those below the threshold. Strikingly, children whose mothers’ work and those not in the labor force also fair better than those whose mothers are unemployed. Readiness by race is close for whites, blacks and others; however, many Hispanic children fall behind as much as 5-15% compared to their counterparts.
US Elected to UN Human Rights Council After 3 Year Absence
Published Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
For the first time since the election reforms of the new United Nations Human Rights Council (previously known as the U.N. Human Rights Commission), the United States has been elected to sit on the 47 member council. The US had initially opposed the creation of the Council and refused to stand for election three years ago along with Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Initially, the Bush Administration agreed to fund the council and be an observer, but this was withdrawn. The Obama Administration reversed the Bush position and was elected along with 17 other countries such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Kyrgyzstan.
US and UN relations have been strained in other aspects of administration, especially in regards to contributions. The United States has, since 1992, sought a U.N. General Assembly reduction of the US peacekeeping assessment (budget contribution) to 25%, which would have increased other countries’ assessments. Despite the General Assembly’s refusal, the US has since Fiscal Year 1995 set its own assessment level of 25%. In 2001, the UN agreed to progressively reduce the US assessment levels; those levels have shrunk from the 28.15% in 2001 to 26% in 2007. However in 2005, despite Senator Biden’s efforts to set the cap at 27.1%, Congress chose to keep the US assessment at 25%. According to the UN, the efforts to cap its assessment have lead to an accumulation of debt by the US for its UN peacekeeping accounts at $1.3 billion, as well as a General Budget debt of 846 million.
The Senate Finance Committee has issued a 40 page report on options to pay for health care reform measures and coverage for the nearly 50 million who are uninsured. Among these options, cutting cost is the most popular for the long run, yet in the short term, some are proposing taxes as a way to raise the necessary funding and trigger cost-saving lifestyle changes. For example, a soda tax will target drinks with high caloric sweeteners; diet drinks will be exempt. Another proposal would put a federal tax on alcoholic drinks. The proposal also suggests that health insurance benefits for those who make over $200,000 as individuals and $400,000 as a couple be taxed. Plus, for upper income seniors, they will be charged more for their Medicare drug plans.
Public and private health care spending has risen relatively in parallel, with a fluctuating gap between the two since 1977 and a present gap of $108 billion. The annual pace at which both have climbed is mirrored by the average annual expenditures per consumer for out-of-pocket health care in a year, which is calculated at nearly $3000 in 2007. Currently, the pressures of those expenditures have caused many to be uninsured, to fall on government health care rolls, or worse yet to go into foreclosure or bankruptcy. When compared to other countries, America spends more on health care as a percentage of GDP and yet has one of the highest rates of uninsured.
New Study to Improve Early Tornado Warning Systems
Published Friday, May 15th, 2009 by Lacey Loftin
With Tornado season in full swing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has initiated a joint project that explores the origins, structure and evolution of tornados. The project, Verification of the Origin of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2 (VORTEX2) involves more than 50 scientists, 40 vehicles and 10 mobile radars. Its objective is to collect data in order understand how tornadoes form and how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado function. The principle area of interest is the Great Plains including South Dakota, western Iowa, eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, the Texas panhandle, and western Oklahoma. Preliminary results from V2 are scheduled for presentation at Penn State during the 2009 fall semester. Funding for the study — amounting to $11.9 million — will come from NOAA and the National Science Foundation, 10 universities, and 3 non-profit organizations.
The initial VORTEX study operated during 1994 and 1995; its findings led to a greater understanding of the entire life cycle of tornadoes. The results of the study may, in part, be responsible for the improved National Weather Service severe weather warning statistics. Given the spike in the number of tornadoes in recent years, the improvements to the NWS have managed to significantly reduce the nationwide number of fatalities due to severe weather and tornadoes.