Merkley outlines solutions to education, jobs, foreclosure problems
El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — With the United States facing the greatest number of crippling problems since the Great Depression, identifying the most urgent ones becomes a matter of perspective. During a 30-minute interview in late October, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sat down in his 14th-floor suite in Portland to discuss three of special concern to him.
His selection of three issues — education, jobs, and mortgage foreclosures — applied not only to Oregon, but to the nation as well.
In most Oregon public schools, less than half of the students meet basic grade standards.
Merkley sees the problems as one driven by a lack of adequate funding.
“The big issue,” he said, “is we have to spend a lot less on wars and more on [educational] infrastructure.”
Pupil-to-teacher ratios were too high, he said. When his son went into class, he noted, there were 34 children in the room, a number much higher than when he went to school.
To add to the complexity, in Oregon school children now speak many languages. Several years ago a superintendent in Beaverton noted that students in that district spoke about 130 languages.
Endorsing English as a Second Language (ESL) and English Language Learner (ELL) programs, Merkley said, children need a bridge to become proficient in English.
Hiring enough teachers to deal with linguistic and other special areas requires more money than school districts can afford.
Moreover, Merkley said, fees for extra-curricular activities are too high for some families.
College tuitions, he noted, have grown higher, pricing higher education outside the reach of many families. Recently, he said, the percentage of students going to college has begun to fall. This presents a serious problem in a global economy with an emphasis on high tech workers.
On the imminent termination of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program, Merkley said this program had failed because it focused on the wrong target. Instead of concentrating on schools that fail, he said, “We need to celebrate schools that are making progress.”
When the United States opened trade relations with China, Merkley said, “We had a theory that turned out not to be true.”
Proponents did not know that China would not honor the agreements contained in the trade agreement between the world’s two leading producers.
Merkley estimated that China’s subsidies to its industries can be tied to 50,000 closed American factories, as well as 5 million lost jobs.
Moreover, he said, the Asian giant provides low interest loans to Chinese factories.
He also objected to China keeping its currency artificially low.
According to economic theory, the products of countries with falling currencies become more attractive than the products of countries with stable currencies.
Moreover, Merkley said that China has failed to report on its subsidies as they had agreed to do under economic treaties.
To combat this, Merkley said he has introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to hire an auditor to check China’s economic policies. He said our trade representative should look into approximately 250 cases of suspected bad practices by China.
The British publication, The Economist, agrees that China “lavishes subsidies on favoured domestic companies and discriminates against foreign ones.”
In a recent issue, The Economist said, “The main cause of that decline [in U.S. jobs] is rising productivity, which lets factories produce more stuff with fewer workers, but cheap Chinese imports have also been a factor. America’s resentment of China has grown as its economy sputters while China’s has galloped ahead.”
Should the World Trade Organization (WTO) lower the boom on China for manipulating its currency — the yuan — to its advantage? The Economist noted, “The rules of the World Trade Organization generally do not recognize undervalued currencies as an illegal subsidy.”
References show that from 2004 to 2010 the Chinese yuan grew only slightly above the dollar. On European markets, both the dollar and the yuan have both fallen relative to the euro. However in the last 16 months since April 2010, The Economist reports that the yuan has appreciated 7 percent against the dollar.
In the last 20 months more than 6 million American homes have fallen into foreclosure. This, a Merkley white paper states, leads to a “ripple through the surrounding community, bringing down the market value of the neighborhood and siphoning off a family’s income and savings.”
In a press release, Merkley added, “A weak housing market hurts families, and has deeply damaged Oregon’s construction and timber industries as well as our nursery and grass seed industries. Thus, restoring the housing market is critical to pulling our economy out of the ditch.”
During the interview, he blamed the situation on former President George W. Bush for encouraging predatory loans to low income minorities.
[Correction: Sen. Merkley noted that the problems with sub-prime loans began during the presidency of George W. Bush. He did not attribute the problems to President Bush. El Hispanic News regrets the error.]
Merkley pointed out that housing foreclosures fall on the shoulders of minorities by a very high ratio.
In addition to foreclosures that evict millions of families, the empty houses quickly become targets for pillagers. Livable houses quickly became unlivable wrecks. Moreover, the market price of nearby houses dropped.
To relieve this situation, Merkley has printed an eight-page brochure outlining his six step program to halt this tide of tragedy.
The first is to provide a $5,000 tax credit to first-time home buyers. In addition he proposed allowing some home buyers to take a mortgage interest tax deduction.
Secondly, his plan recommends a “short refinance” program to allow buyers to refinance their mortgages if interest rates become lower. This plan would allow families to remain in their homes while a revised loan was being worked out.
The third step would create a third-party review program. Before being evicted, Merkley suggests, a family should have recourse to an independent review.
The fourth step would prevent home buyers from being assaulted by foreclosure proceedings while mortgage modification negotiations are underway. This double engagement is difficult for non-specialists to manage.
Step number five calls for a “single point contact” to simplify the loan modification process.
The sixth step notes that separate rules apply to rich families seeking temporary relief from their debts and poor families facing eviction. Merkley proposes the same rules should apply to some who meet certain eligibility standards.
On a slightly different approach, 34 senators, including Merkley, called for the Obama administration to develop an efficient and effective strategy to convert foreclosed homes into affordable rentals. This, they reasoned, would help address the foreclosure crisis and stabilize the housing market.
Este artículo también está disponible en / This post is also available in: Spanish
Short URL: http://www.elhispanicnews.com/?p=2884