Washington Report: Dems and GOP Fight Over Funding; Black Farmers Still Seek Relief; SBA Helps with Refinancing

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  • Congress Holds Marathon Floor Sessions on Government Funding
    Keeping up with news on the Hill (Image: Thinkstock)
  • House lawmakers logged more than 40 hours this week in often-heated debate over 500-plus amendments to a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded through September30. The current stopgap measure financing the federal government agencies and services  expires March 4.  If the House and Senate are unable to reach an accord before that deadline or if funding is not extended temporarily, federal agencies could shut down. According to House Speaker John Boehner, the CR would cut more than $100 billion from President Obama’s 2011 budget request.
  • “That’s five times larger than any discretionary spending cuts ever considered by the House,” Boehner said during his weekly press conference Thursday morning. “We’ve exceeded the commitment that we made in our Pledge to America. And there are more reforms and more cuts to come.”  The amendments cover a broad range of programs, including funding to implement healthcare and financial regulation reforms.
  • Lawmakers who represent minority and low-income constituents are worried, saying the CR threatens America’s future. According to a fact sheet issued by the Congressional Tri-Caucus, composed of the black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific American caucuses, the Republican bill would cut $1.9 billion from the Minority Business Development Agency; $3 billion from the Workforce Investment Act, which has helped 714,314 minorities develop much-needed job skills; $1 billion from Head Start; $61 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grants; and $75 million from community health centers. The House failed to pass an amendment introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) to extend unemployment benefits for the chronically unemployed for an additional 14 weeks.
  • Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) voiced concern over almost all of the proposed amendments. “The Republican majority has no interest in protecting low-income families and minorities in this country. They are determined to at least cut $61 billion out of the budget between now and the end of September and most of those cuts don’t favor African American or low-income families.”
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pennsylvania), who sits on the appropriations panel, says he’s not worried about any of the amendments. “This is a complete waste of time so they can tell their base that they cut spending by $100 billion, which in the math, is really $61 billion, and buried inside of that is $61 billion off of what we spent last year, not off of the president’s budget request. But who cares about the facts?” Fattah said.
  • The White House budget office recently issued a statement of administration policy warning that President Obama would veto any bill the administration believed would derail economic recovery and vital government operations. “The bill proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation, and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the Department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements,” the statement read.  “If the president is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the president will veto the bill.”

 

  • Black Farmers Still Seeking to Harvest Relief
  • Two months after President Obama signed landmark legislation authorizing $1.25 billion to settle discrimination cases filed by the nation’s black farmers against the U.S. Agriculture Department, there has been no further progress on the Pigford II settlement.
  • Before making an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. earlier this week, National Black Farmers Association president John Boyd, Jr. told BlackEnterprise.com that the claims process has been delayed because the federal judge assigned to the case has not yet given the settlement preliminary approval. The Cobell case, which will settle claims filed by Native American farmers has already received such sanction, however.
  • “I was hopeful that Judge Paul Freeman would move just as swiftly. The farmers are desperate for information,” Boyd says. He maintains that there is a great deal of confusion about the claims process and believes that many farmers could wind up victims of scam artists.
  • “I’ve been hearing from farmers that people are charging [some] $100 for an application or a petition. There is no fee to be a part of this process,” Boyd says. “And right now, there’s nothing the farmers can do but wait on the actual decision from Judge Freeman.”

 

  • SBA Launches Program to Help Small Businesses Refinance Mortgages
  • The Small Business Administration announced Thursday a temporary program to help small businesses refinance maturing commercial mortgages or balloon payments before December 21, 2012, similar to the agency’s 504 program. The agency, which estimates that the program could help as many as 20,000 businesses, will begin accepting applications on February 28.
  • The program will initially focus on business owners with the greatest financial need, those facing balloon payments due before the end of the year. Borrowers will be able to refinance up to 90% of the current appraised property value or 100% of the outstanding mortgage plus eligible refinancing costs.
  • “The economic downturn of recent years and the declining value of real estate have had a significant, negative impact on many small businesses with mortgages maturing within the next few years,” says SBA administrator Karen Mills. “As a result, even small businesses that are performing well and making their payments on time could face foreclosure because of the difficulties they face in refinancing and restructuring their mortgage debt. This temporary program is another tool SBA can provide to help these small businesses remain viable and protect jobs.”

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