U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis urged a packed house of area Latino leaders and some of the state’s top officials to keep pressure on Congress to pass the president’s jobs proposal during a visit to Denver on Monday. She said key provisions of the bill — extending a payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits, both set to expire at the end of the year — would continue spurring an economy she acknowledged isn’t adding jobs as fast as anyone would like.
Solis also proposed using jobless benefits to further spur the economy by allowing those collecting unemployment to use the funds to start a business and instituting a program to subsidize new hires by paying a portion of salaries with unemployment benefits.
Solis sat down with several dozen business, civic and nonprofit leaders from Colorado’s Latino community to talk jobs at the offices of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity & Reproductive Rights. In addition to numerous state lawmakers and city council members from around the metro area, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock joined the conversation.
After that roundtable, Solis and DeGette met with unemployed workers for a discussion about benefits programs at the Denver Workforce Center.
At both appearances, Solis pushed a proposal to extend payments to those whose benefits are scheduled to run out, saying that amounts to real money that would circulate to local businesses.
“At least a million individuals will be affected if we don’t extend unemployment insurance,” Solis said. “That’s so important because it acts as a stimulus to the economy. For every $1 of (unemployment insurance) benefits, $2 gets generated back into the economy.”
In Colorado, an estimated 34,000 unemployed workers stand to lose their benefits if Congress doesn’t pass the extension, a part of President Obama’s $447 billion jobs package.
“It’s important for people to understand that the president is advocating for job creation, and one of the quickest ways to do that is to stimulate the economy through a payroll tax (cut) that would affect thousands and thousands of families here in Denver,” Solis said.
In addition, she made a plea to keep this year’s payroll tax break in place, calculating that it would mean roughly $1,700 available to a typical family of four — again, she said, hardly pocket change in today’s tight economy.
Congressional Republicans have no good reason to block the extensions, Solis said, noting that both measures have had wide bipartisan support in the past.
Introducing Solis, Hickenlooper said she was part of an administration that doesn’t get enough credit for how well various Cabinet heads work together. “For the first time,” Hickenlooper said, “President Obama has got them working together in a way — you talk to a lobbyist that’s been there 50 years — that has never happened before.” Calling it “a remarkable step forward,” Hickenlooper concluded: “Essentially, President Obama has begun getting the federal government to operate like a business.”
Hickenlooper went on to say that one of Colorado’s challenges includes making sure the state’s growing Latino population doesn’t just have jobs but also has a hand in running things.
Even though there’s constant talk about job creation, he said, sometimes “discordant elements” in the economy get ignored. “Take the 2010 Census,” Hickenlooper said. “While it shows that 20.7 percent of Colorado population is Hispanic, only 6.2 percent of the firms in Colorado are owned by Hispanics. That’s not just a small discrepancy, that’s a dramatic discrepancy.”
Hickenlooper said it’s a top priority to change those numbers. “We have to make sure that the creativity of our entire population is being utilized,” so that Colorado benefits from “full, representative diversity of ownership.”
Hancock said it was up to the people at the table to “send a very strong message come next November” if Republicans keep blocking efforts to spur the economy.
“‘No’ is not a management tool,” Hancock said. “But, unfortunately, we are seeing far too often out of Washington today, the word ‘no’ is being used as a way to manage the process going forward — when so many families are hurting, when so many people have been out of work.” Pointing to reports about increasing levels of homelessness, he continued: “The problem is, when the question of what does ‘yes’ look like, we don’t get an answer out of Washington, because it’s not about ‘yes,’ and it’s not about helping people, it’s about furthering the political agenda.”
Several participants in the roundtable told Solis they support a national DREAM Act, legislation to allow children of undocumented foreigners to stay in the country and pursue an education once they reach adulthood. But Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez went further, urging Solis to tell her boss to enact the measure with the stroke of a pen.
Noting that many of his west-side constituents are suffering inordinately in the moribund economy — “While we’re in a recession, these folks are in a depression,” Lopez said — the official said Latinos are well aware of the dim prospects for comprehensive immigration reform.
Nonetheless, he said, “We need to be able to pass the DREAM Act on executive order. There has to be some kind of approach in an executive manner to pass this because these are the kids — we should not be deporting our tax base and deporting our future.”
“I’m not sure (the president) can do an executive order on the DREAM Act, because it takes legislative authorization,” DeGette said. “But what he can do is what is starting to kind of — and the secretary mentioned this briefly — as he’s enforcing these laws, he can really think about, are these the people you really want to be thinking about? I’ve got to tell you, that is a feeble solution, to my mind. We have to pass the DREAM Act.”
She encouraged anyone at the table who knew students facing deportation to contact her office. “There are things we can do,” she said. Then she added, “It’s only a little bit. We have to pass the DREAM Act.”