Unemployment insurance is critical to those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are diligently searching for work but are unable to find it. That is why I recently voted to proceed to debate a bill that would extend federal emergency unemployment compensation benefits. This program supplements the 26 weeks of standard benefits provided under state programs during times of high unemployment. In addition, along with a group of my colleagues, I have introduced a bill that would not only extend the temporary federal long-term unemployment insurance program, but also repeal the recent cuts in the military retiree cost-of-living adjustment that was included in December’s budget agreement. Our plan would also responsibly pay for both the unemployment extension and for the restoration of military retiree benefits.
The ongoing debate on unemployment compensation shines a spotlight on the underlying problem: extremely sluggish job growth in our still lagging economy. Putting people back to work is my number one goal. Congress and the President should be doing everything they can to embrace policies that will help businesses grow, succeed, and create jobs, which is why I want you to know about my “Seven-Point Plan to Create Jobs and Help Small Businesses Grow.”
My plan recognizes that small businesses are our job creators; thus, our efforts must be targeted toward helping small businesses start-up, grow, and prosper. In Maine alone, we have 141,000 small businesses. During the last decade, America’s small businesses have created about 70 percent of all new jobs.
Far too often, Congress directs federal policies toward those businesses deemed too big to fail. Instead, we must redirect our efforts toward those small businesses that are too entrepreneurial to ignore. My plan is based on extensive conversations I have had with small business owners and workers here in Maine. While each state has its own particular opportunities and challenges, the fundamentals of a jobs-oriented economic recovery are similar everywhere throughout the country.
First, my plan to build a 21st Century economy begins with building a 21st Century workforce. Ensuring that workers get the education and training they need to compete in the global economy must be a top priority. I have met with business owners in Maine who have jobs available but cannot find qualified and trained workers to fill these vacant positions. My plan puts special emphasis on job training programs that assist the manufacturing industry, and calls for targeted funding to encourage universities and community colleges to work with industry to develop the manufacturing-based curriculum, job training programs, and research opportunities to ensure that this generation and the next have the education and skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
In addition, along with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), I am the lead cosponsor of the bipartisan Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, which would address the disparity between high unemployment rates and a shortage of skilled workers for many emerging industries at the regional level. This bill would help better align America’s workforce training programs with the needs of our nation’s employers to promote hiring and the creation of new jobs.
Second, my plan includes a series of tax-reform proposals to encourage job creation and investment by small business, and to reduce the tax burden on small business – freeing up capital that they need to invest, grow, and add jobs. My plan would also reduce the amount of federal excise tax that Maine’s small craft brewers pay on each barrel of beer that they produce. One national study found that this proposal would help create thousands of new jobs.
My third point is one some small business owners I have met with would put at the top of their list: stop tying up our job creators with red tape. With unemployment still at unacceptable levels, we must ensure that federal regulations do not impose an unnecessary burden on job creation. Federal agencies should be required to take into account the impact on small businesses and job growth before imposing new rules. In addition, it would protect small businesses from needless fines and penalties the first time they fail to comply with paperwork requirements imposed by federal regulations, so long as no harm comes from that failure.
Fourth, if we are to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector, we must improve the efficiency and reliability of the nation’s transportation system. This is vital to the movement of raw materials and getting finished products to market quickly, efficiently, and safely. As Ranking Member of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I am a strong supporter of the TIGER program and have helped secure more than $65 million economic development projects ranging from rail refurbishment in Aroostook County, to critical bridge replacement projects in Rumford, Dresden, Kittery, and major improvements in ports of Eastport, Searsport, and Portland. I’m also pleased that this year’s budget includes $600 million to continue this important grants program.
The fifth and sixth parts of this plan would invest in our state’s future and encourage innovation in Maine’s natural resource-based economy. Nowhere is there greater potential than in energy. To ensure the United States leads the world in developing renewable energy technologies, significant investments are needed to develop the technology and make its deployment affordable.
For example, deepwater offshore wind has enormous potential. Estimates show that development of just five gigawatts of offshore wind in Maine – a fraction of the potential — could power more than 1 million homes, attract $20 billion of investment, and create more than 15,000 green energy jobs that would be sustained over 30 years. The work of the University of Maine and the DeepCwind Consortium to deploy floating wind turbines would be the first of its kind in the world, placing the United States in a position to lead in deepwater offshore wind technology. I want those jobs to be in Maine, not China, which has now surpassed the United States in the production of solar panels.
As a native of Aroostook County, I know that family farms are the cornerstone of the economy in much of Maine. In addition to providing a safe and healthful food supply, Maine farmers sustain our rural communities, protect the environment, and preserve open space. In Maine, blueberries, lobster, and potatoes help maintain and create jobs. Currently, the healthy, fresh white potato is the only fruit or vegetable excluded from the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. This makes no sense, and I will continue to work to see that it is included. In addition, my jobs plan will help support our region’s important dairy industry.
Finally, my plan calls for the continued support of Maine’s manufacturing industry, which includes thousands of workers all across the state – from New Balance in Skowhegan, Norridgewock, and Norway to the talented and dedicated men and women at Pratt and Whitney in North Berwick, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, and Bath Iron Works. I am delighted that, working with Senator Angus King, I was recently able to secure $100 million in this year’s federal funding bill to help construct a fifth DDG-51 at BIW. While this funding was not included in the House version of the defense bill, we worked to ensure that it was included in the final bill. This will not only help add stability to the workforce at BIW, but also result in additional savings for taxpayers.
The struggling economy may have challenged our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit, but that spirit remains strong. We will recover, and that recovery will come from the innovative and bold job-creators of America’s small-business community. My Seven-Point Jobs Plan offers a straightforward way for Congress to lead, rather than impede, at this critical juncture.
For more information on my jobs plan, go to www.collins.senate.gov/jobsplan
Susan Collins is the senior senator from Maine.