FACT SHEET | September 9, 2008

Democrats are Committed to Making the American Dream More Affordable for Latinos and All American Workers

DPC Staff Contact:

Over the past several years, when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, they dramatically increased the burdens on American workers and their families, especially those in the Latino community. Bush Republican's record of fiscal incompetence and mismanagement, and Republicans' close ties with special interests, have helped lead to job losses, higher and longer unemployment, lower wages, skyrocketing transportation costs, and an epic housing crisis. Democrats believe that Americans deserve better.


In the 110th Congress, Democrats worked to pass legislation that would strengthen the economy and improve the lives of working and middle-class Latinos by issuing stimulus rebates, extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage, creating new jobs, expanding access to affordable housing and foreclosure avoidance assistance, and promoting energy independence. And more often than not, we had to work for the American people in the face of unprecedented Republican obstructionism. As we move forward in this Congress and look toward a better, brighter future, the nation can be assured that Senate Democrats will remain committed to undoing the damage done by years of Bush-McCain fiscal policies and will work to make the American dream more affordable for Latinos and all American workers.


Providing Economic Stimulus and Investing in Workers


The Democratic-led Congress responded to the needs of the nation by passing a stimulus package that helps America's families. On February 7, 2008, both Houses of Congress passed H.R. 5140, the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, by overwhelmingly bipartisan votes. In passing this legislation, the Democratic-led Congress kept its promise to respond quickly to the nation's economic downturn. While we recognize that there are structural problems in the economy that a short-term stimulus measure will not solve, the bill has provided direct financial relief to those who need it most and are most likely to use it to jumpstart the slowing economy. The measure, signed into law (P.L. 110-185) on February 13, 2008:


        Issued a $300 - $600 rebate for individuals, or a $600 - $1200 rebate for married couples, including seniors living only on Social Security and disabled veterans;

        Provided a $300-per child tax credit;

        Helped families at risk of foreclosure by expanding mortgage financing opportunities; and

        Promoted job-creating business investments by providing tax relief for American businesses, especially small businesses.


Democrats also passed legislation to extend unemployment benefits. This month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the eighth consecutive month of significant job losses, which provided only more evidence that the nation is sliding into a recession. Moreover, for the first time five years, more than six percent of Americans -- 9.4 million -- were unemployed in August, up from 4.7 percent a year ago and up from 4.1 percent in 2000, the last year of the Clinton Administration. The situation is even direr in the Latino community, which had an unemployment rate of eight percent, up from 5.4 percent in August 2007. Even worse, a growing number of Americans are finding themselves unemployed for extended periods, often beyond 27 weeks. This is a critical marker because it represents the point at which unemployment insurance (UI) benefits expire.


When President Bush took office, 11.8 percent of unemployed workers (or 801,000 workers) were unemployed for more than 27 weeks. By 2007, that percentage had grown to 17.6 (or 1.24 million workers), and by some estimates, a total of 2.5 million Americans had exhausted their UI benefits by year's end. Given the current economic downturn, this year is turning out to be much worse. Last month, 1.84 million Americans (19.5 percent of unemployed persons), across the economic spectrum, were unemployed for more than 27 weeks, up from 1.25 million last year (17.4 percent of unemployed persons). Moreover, Goldman Sachs projects that the national unemployment rate could soar to 6.5 percent by the end of 2009, and with it long-term unemployment would also increase.


While UI is intended to be temporary, Congress has traditionally extended benefits during times of high unemployment and recession in the past, and the same remedy is needed now. Far from a handout, UI benefits are paid for by American workers to act as a safety-net in case of job loss. It is estimated that 77 percent of middle-class Americans do not have enough assets to cover three months of essential expenses.


Moreover, as American families have less, they spend less, which negatively impacts the consumer-driven industries that rely upon their dollars, which only leads to lower salaries for employed workers, more layoffs, and longer periods of unemployment. Investments in UI help to stimulate our struggling economy and job market. According to Moody's economist, Mark Zandi, every dollar invested in UI yields $1.64 in growth -- more than any other stimulus program. Congressional Budget Office analysis confirms this general principal.


Unwilling to do nothing as millions of Americans and their children stand on the brink of financial disaster, Congress, under the leadership of Democrats, passed H.R. 2642, the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, which extended unemployment benefits by 13 weeks for all workers, nationwide, and provided for an additional 13 weeks for workers in high-unemployment areas. The President signed the bill into law (P.L. 110-252) on June 30, 2008.


Democrats sought better pay for working Americans by raising the minimum wage. In May 2007, after a ten year battle, Congress, under Democratic leadership, gave workers a long overdue raise by increasing the federal minimum wage to $7.25/hour. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, passed as a part of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental (P.L. 110-28), raises the minimum wage from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour in three steps over two years and will benefit 13 million workers, 5.6 million directly and 7.4 million indirectly, helping to reverse years of wage stagnation, without harming the economy.


Approximately 19 percent of those who will benefit are Hispanic, nearly 59 percent are women, and 10 percent are single parents. Minimum wage earners also serve as the sole breadwinners of 46 percent of families who will benefit. Moreover, the raise will help well-over six million children under the age of 18 whose parents will receive an increase in earnings.


The increase of $2.10/hour will help many of the approximately 21.5 percent (nearly 10 million) of Hispanics -- the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group -- who live below the poverty line by adding nearly $4,400 to a full-time, year round minimum wage worker's income. In some areas of the country, this additional money could be enough for a low-income family of three to cover months of groceries, utilities, or rent or nearly two years of child care or college tuition at a public two-year college. When combined with the Earned Income Tax Credit and assistance programs, the additional income could lift a family of four above the poverty line, even after payroll taxes. While more needs to be done, raising the federal minimum wage was an important step toward economic security for working Americans.


Congress passed a new law to increase the safety, accountability, and efficiency of our highway systems. In the 109th Congress, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which authorized funding for our nation's highways, transit, and highway safety programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2009.  Since that time, drafting errors and certain legislative language have yielded unintended consequences that have frustrated the proper implementation of various infrastructure programs authorized in SAFETEA-LU. H.R. 1195, the SAFETEA-LU Technical Corrections Act of 2008 corrects drafting errors, makes technical changes, and clarifies congressional intent.  Given the current economic downtown, enacting this law was especially important because infrastructure investments stimulate the economy through job creation and reduced transportation costs.  The President signed the bill into law on June 6, 2008 (P.L. 110-244).


The Democratic Congress passed Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations that invested in Department of Labor programs. H.R. 2764, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-161) signed by the President on December 12, 2007 funded critical workforce development programs, which enhance job training and employment assistance services at the local level for economically disadvantaged veterans, dislocated workers, civilian adults, and at-risk youth. The measure also aided the Mine Safety and Health Administration in meeting its legal obligation to conduct 100 percent of mandatory health and safety inspections and required the Social Security Administration to reduce the backlog of disability claims. Moreover, the legislation invested in the International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) to eliminate exploitative and abusive child labor and support a new initiative to address worker rights in foreign countries with which the United States has trade preference programs.


The Democratic Congress passed alternative minimum tax relief for America's working families. In fall 2007, the Democratic-led Senate and House sent H.R. 3996, the Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2007 to the President for signature, which he signed into law (P.L. 110-166) on December 26. This law will protect 19 million American families from being hit by the alternative minimum tax (AMT). While the AMT was created in 1969 to keep wealthy people from avoiding taxes altogether, it has started to hit working families instead. Without this measure, the hard-working American families that would have been ensnared by the AMT would have been hit with an average tax increase of nearly $2,000.


Addressing the Nation's Housing Crisis


Democrats passed a law to ensure Americans can buy a home -- and keep a home. Years of abuse by the subprime mortgage lending industry and under-regulation by the Bush Administration have resulted in a serious housing crisis that is crippling the economy and undermining the American people's sense of security. It is estimated lenders file thousands of new foreclosures per day, and that over the next two years, more than two million Americans may lose their homes to foreclosure and more than 40 million of their neighbors may see their property values decline as houses foreclose around them. As a result, towns and cities across America are experiencing business closings, increased crime, and an undermined tax base due to the abandonment of homes in their neighborhoods. Moreover, with more than 40 percent of home loans to Latino families being subprime, the Latino community is amongst the hardest hit. Reports show that minorities were often targeted by unscrupulous lenders for subprime loans, regardless of credit rating or income.


On July 26, 2008, the Democratic-led Congress adopted H.R. 3221, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, a comprehensive legislative package that would bring relief to American homeowners and stabilize the housing markets while maintaining fiscal responsibility. Specifically, the bill, which was signed into law (P.L. 110-289) on July 30, includes:


        The Federal Housing Finance Regulatory Reform Act of 2008 (GSE Reform), which would create a new, effective regulator for the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) so that these vital institutions can safely and soundly carry out their important mission of providing our nation's families with affordable housing; the legislation would also raise loan limits to expand affordable housing in high cost areas; in addition, this legislation would create the Housing Trust Fund, of which 75 percent of the monies must be used to benefit extremely low-income families, and a Capital Magnet Fund, which will leverage $10 for every dollar contributed by the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac;


        Treasury Emergency Authority, which was requested by Secretary of the Treasury Paulson and designed to shore up the confidence of the financial markets in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks (referred to as "GSEs") in response to the erosion of investor confidence in GSEs in July 2008. This temporary authority would allow Treasury to purchase debt securities issued by the GSEs and to purchase common stock of the enterprises with the agreement of the companies in order to protect the taxpayer, provide stability to the financial markets, and prevent disruptions in the availability of mortgages;


        The HOPE for Homeowners Act, which would establish a voluntary, new initiative at the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to help 400,000 American homeowners refinance their loan at an affordable rate in an effort to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes;


        The S.A.F.E. Mortgage Licensing Act, which would create a federal registry and establish minimum national standards for all residential mortgage brokers and lenders;


        The Foreclosure Prevention Act, which would provide assistance for communities devastated by foreclosures, foreclosure counseling for families in need, programs to help returning soldiers avoid foreclosure, and mortgage disclosure enhancements; the bill also includes the FHA Modernization Act;


        The Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008, which would provide tax benefits for homeowners, homebuyers, and homebuilders aimed at helping the housing market recover; and


        Revenue provisions to pay for the legislation, consistent with responsible fiscal policy.


On December 14, 2007, the Democratic-led Senate unanimously approved an amended version of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 (H.R. 3648), which the House later approved on December 18 and the President signed into law (P.L. 110-142) on December 20. The new law offers tax relief to American families caught in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Specifically, this fully off-set measure creates a three-year exception for debt forgiveness on home loans - helping families already unable to meet their mortgages to avoid incurring large tax bills as well - and extends a provision allowing homeowners to deduct mortgage insurance payments from their taxable income. The law also gives a surviving spouse an additional two years from the spouse's death to sell their home and claim the full $500,000 exclusion from capital gains tax.


Lowering Gas Prices and Promoting Energy Independence


The Democratic-led Congress passed legislation to increase the amount of fairly-priced petroleum on the market. On May 14, 2008, the House and Senate passed H.R. 6022 which requires the Secretary of Energy to suspend acquisition of petroleum for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) through 2008, including through the direct purchase or royalty-in-kind contracts.  Filling of the SPR takes 70,000 barrels of oil off the market each day and a temporary suspension could reduce gas prices by about five cents. The bill, however, allows the Secretary to resume filling if the price of petroleum falls to $75 per barrel. The Senate passed this provision as an amendment to the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act by a vote of 97 to 1. The bill was signed into law on May 19, 2008 (P.L. 110-232).


The Senate passed legislation to promote energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  On December 13, 2007, the Senate passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which will help move the United States away from the Bush-Cheney energy policy -- a policy that has worked for big oil companies, helping them accumulate $600 billion in profits since 2001, but has failed the American people.  The bill was signed into law (P.L. 110-140) on December 19.


The law:


        Raises fuel economy standards for automobiles for the first time in 25 years from 25 miles per gallon (MPG) to 35 MPG.  By 2020, the new fuel economy standards are expected to save 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, remove 192 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from the air each year, and save American consumers up to $1,000;


        Raises the annual requirements for the amount of renewable fuels used in motor vehicles to 36 billion gallons by 2022.  The law also makes a historic commitment to the development of cellulosic ethanol by requiring that the United States produce 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels, like cellulosic ethanol by 2022.  This support for expanding ethanol, particularly cellulosic ethanol, is important because cellulosic ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more compared to regular gasoline;


        Makes the government a leader in cutting energy consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing petroleum usage by the federal government by 30 percent by 2015 and requiring that the federal government increase its purchases of renewable electricity to 10 percent by 2010 and 15 percent by 2015;


        Invests in carbon capture technology which "captures" or confines carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and sequesters them within the earth; and


        Enacts the most important energy efficiency increases in American history by enacting national efficiency standards for light bulbs.  By approximately 2015, the new lighting standards alone are expected to save 65 billion kilowatt hours of electricity savings.  That is the equivalent to the annual output of about 24 new coal power plants at 500 megawatts


The law also creates incentives for small businesses to invest in green technologies, provides the resources to help entrepreneurs conduct energy audits, and ensures that the Bush Administration will implement an energy efficiency information program that Congress enacted two years ago. 


Working for Workers Despite the Efforts of the "Grand Obstructionist Party"


As Democrats worked to advance the priorities of Latino families, Bush-McCain Republicans set new records for obstructionism in the 110th Congress. Senate Republicans engaged in more than 90 filibusters, blocked committee hearings, and placed countless numbers of "holds" on bipartisan legislation that would normally pass the Senate expeditiously by unanimous consent. While these partisan, parliamentary hijinks may be working for Republicans, they are failing the American people.


Republicans have repeatedly turned their backs on:

        Pay equity. Republicans blocked legislation to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc. to ensure that employees who can prove pay discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability will not be forever barred from seeking redress because they did not learn they were victims of pay discrimination within six months after the discriminatory decision was first made. (H.R. 2831, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007)

        Job creation. Republicans blocked legislation to invest in the Highway Trust Fund and extend business tax credits to help companies innovate, both of which would create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs in the Untied States. (S.3335, the Jobs, Energy, Families, and Disaster Relief Act of 2008)

        Tax relief. Republicans blocked legislation to protect millions of Americans from the Alternative Minimum Tax, increase the eligibility for the refundable child tax credit, and extend tax relief for education expenses. (S.3335, the Jobs, Energy, Families, and Disaster Relief Act of 2008)

        Lowering gas prices. Republicans blocked legislation to reduce the amount of excessive speculation in the oil markets and punish price manipulation, both of which experts agree have contributed to skyrocketing gas prices. (S. 3268, the Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act of 2008)

        Advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Republicans blocked legislation to provide brand-new tax incentives for investments in renewable energy related to energy production, transportation and domestic fuel security, and energy conservation and efficiency. (S.3335, the Jobs, Energy, Families, and Disaster Relief Act of 2008)

        Lowering home energy costs. Republicans blocked legislation to assist low-income and elderly Americans with skyrocketing home heating and air-conditioning costs, the lack of which results in thousands of deaths each year. (S.3186, the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act)


As we move forward, Senate Democrats urge Senate Republicans to defy their reputation as the "Grand Obstructionist Party" and join us in our effort advance the priorities of working- and middle-class Latinos and all Americans.





  • Joi Chaney (224-3232)


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