House Passes Kanjorski Mortgage Bill

Rural America depends upon government programs so many people can become homeowners.  There are several mortgage programs available and this one is specifically designed for rural communities.  Hundreds of these mortgages are guaranteed every year in Pennsylvania alone and with funding set to expire within days the House passed the  Rural Housing Preservation and Stabilization Act of 2010 sponsored by Congressman Paul Kanjorski.

“Today, the House passed my much needed legislation to help ensure that families living in rural America can continue to access USDA loan guarantees so that they can buy homes with affordable mortgages,” said Chairman Kanjorski.  “Many people living in rural communities do not have as much access to affordable home loans.  The USDA program works to fix this problem, but it could run out of federal funding in a matter of days.  We must ensure that families continue to have options for accessing affordable home loans.  My bill will enable the program to continue its good work at no cost to the taxpayers.  I am hopeful that the Senate will soon act on these matters as Senator Bennet of Colorado has already taken the lead in pushing this issue in that chamber.  I urge the Senate to act quickly and pass this legislation.”

The House Financial Services Committee unanimously passed H.R. 5017 last week.  The bill ensures the continued access of rural homebuyers to affordable mortgages through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) loan guarantee program.  The financial crisis has spiked consumer interest in the program, tripling the number of loans annually made since 2006.  Because demand continues to grow, the program will exhaust its federal funding within days.   H.R. 5017 would solve this problem by making the program self funded, enabling families living in rural communities to continue to access these loan guarantees.

“As a result of this program, I was able to purchase my first home which I have wanted all my life,” said Virgie Spruiell from Bushkill, Pennsylvania.  “I enjoy it every day and it is a blessing.  I greatly appreciate Chairman Kanjorski’s efforts to enable the program to continue so that other people can access these guaranteed home loans just as I did.  It has had helped me tremendously.”

Chairman Kanjorski’s legislation will correct the Section 502 Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program funding shortfall by enabling the program to pay for itself, rather than relying on federal funding.  In order to pay for the program, lenders will pay up to a 4 percent fee on new home mortgages and the USDA will have increased loan authority of $30 billion dollars for this fiscal year.  As a result of these changes, financing of the program will move from a combination of government funding and industry fees to a self-sustaining initiative.

The USDA’s Rural Housing Service manages the Section 502 program, which provides a vital source of mortgage credit for people living in rural communities.  Low- and moderate-income individuals and families in rural communities often have fewer mortgage credit options than those households in urban areas.  The program aims to fill that void and lower the costs of homeownership by giving rural areas access to a home loan guarantee program.  These guarantees decrease the exposure of home lenders to defaults so that they will underwrite more mortgages.  In 2009, loans to more than 115,000 homebuyers guaranteed under the program averaged $112,000.  To qualify for the program, borrowers must have good credit and reliable incomes to sustain homeownership.

House Passes Kanjorski Mortgage Bill

Rural America depends upon government programs so many people can become homeowners.  There are several mortgage programs available and this one is specifically designed for rural communities.  Hundreds of these mortgages are guaranteed every year in Pennsylvania alone and with funding set to expire within days the House passed the  Rural Housing Preservation and Stabilization Act of 2010 sponsored by Congressman Paul Kanjorski.

“Today, the House passed my much needed legislation to help ensure that families living in rural America can continue to access USDA loan guarantees so that they can buy homes with affordable mortgages,” said Chairman Kanjorski.  “Many people living in rural communities do not have as much access to affordable home loans.  The USDA program works to fix this problem, but it could run out of federal funding in a matter of days.  We must ensure that families continue to have options for accessing affordable home loans.  My bill will enable the program to continue its good work at no cost to the taxpayers.  I am hopeful that the Senate will soon act on these matters as Senator Bennet of Colorado has already taken the lead in pushing this issue in that chamber.  I urge the Senate to act quickly and pass this legislation.”

The House Financial Services Committee unanimously passed H.R. 5017 last week.  The bill ensures the continued access of rural homebuyers to affordable mortgages through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) loan guarantee program.  The financial crisis has spiked consumer interest in the program, tripling the number of loans annually made since 2006.  Because demand continues to grow, the program will exhaust its federal funding within days.   H.R. 5017 would solve this problem by making the program self funded, enabling families living in rural communities to continue to access these loan guarantees.

“As a result of this program, I was able to purchase my first home which I have wanted all my life,” said Virgie Spruiell from Bushkill, Pennsylvania.  “I enjoy it every day and it is a blessing.  I greatly appreciate Chairman Kanjorski’s efforts to enable the program to continue so that other people can access these guaranteed home loans just as I did.  It has had helped me tremendously.”

Chairman Kanjorski’s legislation will correct the Section 502 Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program funding shortfall by enabling the program to pay for itself, rather than relying on federal funding.  In order to pay for the program, lenders will pay up to a 4 percent fee on new home mortgages and the USDA will have increased loan authority of $30 billion dollars for this fiscal year.  As a result of these changes, financing of the program will move from a combination of government funding and industry fees to a self-sustaining initiative.

The USDA’s Rural Housing Service manages the Section 502 program, which provides a vital source of mortgage credit for people living in rural communities.  Low- and moderate-income individuals and families in rural communities often have fewer mortgage credit options than those households in urban areas.  The program aims to fill that void and lower the costs of homeownership by giving rural areas access to a home loan guarantee program.  These guarantees decrease the exposure of home lenders to defaults so that they will underwrite more mortgages.  In 2009, loans to more than 115,000 homebuyers guaranteed under the program averaged $112,000.  To qualify for the program, borrowers must have good credit and reliable incomes to sustain homeownership.

Marriage Equality: Details You Should Know to Make it Happen

( – promoted by John Morgan)

Cross Posted from SumofChange.com

Also from the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit (paprogressivesummit.com), I’d like to bring you a few videos form a panel simply entitled ‘Marriage Equality’.  On this panel, the speakers discussed the benefits, issues, and consequences or allowing homosexual couples marriage rights equal to those of heterosexual ones.  The panelists and approached the topic from a variety of angles.  Some spoke about the legal issues equality, both in the PA state legislature and in the constitution, others talked about the religious aspects, especially from the Christian and Jewish traditions, and others talked about the moral and human rights aspect of the debate.

The clips below go into many of the arguments against marriage equality and gay marriage and why most of them struggle for validity.  The first video, PA state senator Daylin Leach, who sponsored a bill in the PA state legislature in support on marriage equality, goes into many of the arguments against gay marriage that he has heard while debating the bill.  As he says, no one has debated him twice, because no one has presented him an argument with any validity.  The second video looks at many of the religious issues brought up by the marriage equality debate.  Many think that religion has no part of the legal debate over gay marriage and often when religion is invoked, it is done so incorrectly.  Finally, the last clip discusses why marriage equality supporters should want legalized gay marriage and not civil unions.  Civil unions seem like an acceptable compromise, but really they are impractical and still discriminatory.

For more videos from the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit, go to SumofChange.com/paprog

For more info on the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit and it’s organizer, Keystone progress, please go to paprogressivesummit.org and keystoneprogress.org

Adult Basic Coverage in Crisis

Pennsylvania’s Adult Basic health coverage is in crisis and may end December 31st.  The health insurance provides basic coverage for 40,000 previously uninsured Pennsylvanians for little cost.  The monthly premium used to be $36/month but is doubling.  Due to the severe economic climate there are now 390,000 people on the ABC waiting list.  They can buy coverage while on the list (the average time to get ABC is three years) for $629/month as of July.  This is up from $313 last year.

Adult Basic is funded primarily through the state’s Blues companies.  They are required to provide some charity medical coverage as non profit corporations and ABC is how they satisfy this requirement.  Together they are sitting on $5.9 billion in profits, oops, I mean “retained earnings.”  The program has cost them about $150 million per year so ending the contract which expires at the end of this year will not impose any financial hardships on these companies.  In fact all but one have for profit subsidiaries and Highmark will join that club soon.  Any claim that these non profits are not, in reality, for profit enterprises is undermined by that $5.9 billion in earnings.  It is a travesty they can operate without paying any taxes and then provide such little charity coverage.  Now they are ending what charity expenses they have been forced to provide.  Majority Leader Todd Eachus had some words to say about the issue yesterday at the conference in Harrisburg.  Listen to the initial overview of the program and then his comments in the videos below.

The State of the Democratic Party

Sunday evening the Kutztown Area Democratic Club hosted a debate by two local Democrats about the current state of the Party.  Self identified Marxist Bob Millar discussed the topic with Common Sense 2 editor and publisher Chuck Brown.  Brown maintained that until Democrats actually stand for something, have core values and principles, they be continue adrift with voters.  Millar maintained that compromise is the ultimate tool and Democrats should be willing to compromise on anything.  He also condemned all American troops for mass murder in Iraq.

Brown thinks that unless Democrats are held accountable they are no better than Republicans, will sell out to corporate interests and not have any moral center.  Millar said they should be willing to compromise on every issue.  He also criticized Brown for criticizing Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s vote for health insurance reform and accuse dhim, therefore, of wanting to see the Ohio Congressman defeated this fall.  This is the same irrational, intellectually dishonest logic Millar always uses against anyone who dares criticize any Democrat.  Of course holding Kucinich accountable for compromising his core principle is legitimate but how does that equate to wanting him defeated?  This is the illogic which always gets Professor Millar in trouble with people.  He makes these leaps of logic with no foundation and impugns the character of others with no basis in fact.  He then further impugned his own character by constantly interrupting Brown violating the rules of the debate and calling him a liar.  It was a sad night for Democrats if this was the way they argue the current state of the Party.  Brown made many good points about having to hold fellow Democrats accountable if they are also to have any credibility holding Republicans accountable.  I shot a few video clips towards the end of the debate.  Click on “there’s more for the rest.  Rosie Skomitz is the moderator.

Gov. Rendell to Issue Executive Order on HCR

Now that health insurance reform has passed and is the law of the land implementing it is the next major step.  Much of the onus for implementation will be on the states to create exchanges, expand Medicaid and provide the governmental infrastructure to provide insurance coverage, digitize medical records and so forth.  Gov. Ed Rendell will issue and Executive Order within a week to begin this process in Pennsylvania.  It will create a group headed by Donna Cooper to begin advance planning by the state.  Ann Torregrossa, the head of the Governor’s Office on Health Care Reform made the announcement yesterday at a conference about implementing the new law in Pennsylvania.

This year’s state elections will be critical in determining how Pennsylvania moves forward, or not, under the law.  GOP Gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett is suing to overturn the law, something ridiculed by constitutional scholars, and couldn’t be expected to implement much of the legislation as Governor.  Therefore it is urgent a successor to Ed Rendell be elected who will fully and completely enact reform so Pennsylvanians can fully benefit from its provisions.  

The state legislature will then begin designing and building the four exchanges which begin operations in 2014.  Whoever controls the State House and Senate will enact the laws creating the exchanges so who is elected to these positions in November is also critical.  Meanwhile the enactment and implementation of the law waits for no election.  Ray Prushnok, Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging addressed just a few of these concerns in an interview yesterday:

News & Notes April 27, 2010

I was in Harrisburg yesterday for a conference about implementing the new health insurance reform bill in Pennsylvania.  It was a very good conference and I’m working on the video and will get that posted later today.

We begin today with some good news.  Sixth District Congressional candidate Manan Trivedi and his wife Surekha announced the birth of their first child Sonia Kalpana Trivedi.  She is 6 pounds and 4 ounces.  Congratulations to the Trivedi family.

The Republicans’ chant of drill, baby drill! is coming back to haunt them as oil continues to poison the Gulf of Mexico from the blast which felled an oil rig last week.  So much for the propaganda that we no longer need fear oil spills and accidents…  Why am I not shocked that big business again lied to us concerning safety?

Sarah Palin has blessed 12th CD Republican Tim Burns with her endorsement.  Of course the only people blessed by this are the Tea Baggers in Southwestern PA.  It’s a curse for all the sane, rational voters.

Here’s a video on Wall Street reform to remind us why we need this legislation:

Pennsylvania has launched a tax amnesty program for those anti-government types who have refused to pony up.  If you’re traveling our byways, using libraries, enjoying law and order, visiting parks and other recreational areas, have elderly relatives getting services, have children in school, went to public schools yourself and any of the other thousands of services provided by government then you owe your fair share.  The state is giving people until June 25th before they begin criminal prosecutions.  The Commonwealth is owed more than $2.1 billion in back taxes and they hope to collect $190 million in 54 days.  Ads began airing yesterday and they’re quite good.

In a chilling reprimand to everyone using the new Open Records Act the Wyomissing School District in Berks County has begun publishing the names of every person who requests documents under the law.  While no illegal this action is reprehensible and is obviously designed to discourage people from exercising their rights under the law.  Every member of this school board should be thrown out of office for such an anti-democratic action.  What is it they’re so desperate to hide?

Hoeffel: We need to invest in our local banks, businesses and communities

Derivatives weren’t the only toxic asset pawned off on Americans before the financial collapse, something called swaps were foisted on school districts, local and county governments and even the state government.  Con men who referred to themselves as “financial consultants” told our elected officials these were safe, conservative investments for public funds which provided higher rates of return.  I actually witnessed a few of these presentation and couldn’t comprehend why a county government would invest in something which was impossible to understand.  There’s one simple rule for investing:  if you can’t understand how the money is made don’t buy the investment.  Joe Hoeffel came out today and said it’s time for Pennsylvania to invest in Pennsylvania:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Hoeffel thinks it is about time Pennsylvania invests in Pennsylvania, and he will do something about it.

At a press conference today, Hoeffel outlined a plan that will encourage investment in Pennsylvania’s banks and credit unions and award contracts to Pennsylvania businesses.

“Homeowners across America entered into mortgages which seemed like good deals at the time — only to later discover big banks were profiting at their expense,” Hoeffel said.  “Pennsylvania’s financial crisis, and the difficulties faced by many cities, counties, and school districts across the commonwealth, has similar roots. Municipalities and agencies made risky investments with taxpayer money, and big banks profited while we lost.”

Hoeffel’s plan calls for investment in local and community banks and credit unions and recognizing the added value of awarding contracts to Pennsylvania businesses.   He believes Pennsylvania can build a system where taxpayers, financial institutions, and businesses work together with the common interest of investing in our communities and rebuilding Pennsylvania’s economy.

Hoeffel explained that in the years leading up to the current financial crisis, a complex and controversial fiscal practice called interest-rate swaps became commonplace in Pennsylvania.  These exotic “financial instruments” were supposed to benefit the governments that entered into them, but when the economy changed and floating rates took off, taxpayer dollars became big profits for big banks, according to Hoeffel.

He cited several examples:

   *  In late 2008, the Bethlehem Area School District spent $10.2 million of taxpayer’s money not on reducing class size or providing activities for their students.  They gave it to J.P. Morgan.

   * In 2009, Montgomery County paid $12.3 million to two banks, United Bank of Scotland and PNC.

   * This past November, the Delaware River Port Authority, the intergovernmental agency that operates ports, bridges, and transportation between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, paid United Bank of Scotland $111 million, even though the agency’s budget for the entire year was supposed to be $159 million.

   * On April 8th of this year, the cash-strapped City of Philadelphia, facing a second year of debilitating service cuts and the prospect of charging a fee to collect trash, raised funds not to clean streets or put more cops on them but to pay Citigroup $48.6 million.

“Bethlehem schools, Montgomery County, the DRPA, and the City of Philadelphia paid these exorbitant costs just to get out of reckless investments, Hoeffel said. Today, he said, 86 of Pennsylvania’s municipal governments and 107 school districts have nearly $15 billion in public debt tied up in these interest-rate swaps.  The Philadelphia School District alone ties over $1 billion in debt to interest-rate swaps.

Hoeffel said he would ban future interest-rate swaps by adding a provision to the Local Government Unit Debt Act and the Municipal Authorities Act to explicitly prohibit local governments from gambling tax dollars in interest-rate swaps, or any other bizarre “financial instruments.” He then would act to end all active swap arrangements as soon as possible and refinance using conventional financial instruments, preferably utilizing responsible Pennsylvania community banks and credit unions.

One of the keys to growing Pennsylvania is investing in Pennsylvania’s financial institutions.  “Unlike J.P. Morgan and Citigroup, Pennsylvania’s community banks and credit unions are tied to the success of our towns, schools, and communities.  Many are rated as much safer than the big banks.

“According to a study published in January, smaller, safer community banks in Pennsylvania “play a significant role in the economic growth of both rural and urban” parts of the state, he said.  “Furthermore, one of the most valuable traits of community banks is their unique knowledge of the local economy and expertise in local business prospects, which makes them integral to growing the economies of communities around the state.”

He said he would encourage municipalities, agencies, and school districts across the Commonwealth to rethink the way we use public assets and invest in the institutions that invest in us.  “By shifting public assets out of the banks that have bilked us for millions, and into local institutions that support our taxpayers and grow our small businesses, we can make our money work for us, not the tycoons of Wall Street,” he said.

To make these policies possible, Hoeffel supports two key changes to state law.

   * Drop the mandated collateral for state deposits in all banks from the Pennsylvania requirement of 120 percent of the deposit to the more common standard of 102 percent used around the country. “Our higher requirement is unnecessary and puts undue restrictions on community banks and credit unions,” Hoeffel said.

   * Extend from one year to three years the life of the Certificates of Deposit that the state invests in banks. “Three years will make it much easier for community banks to loan the money into the local community,” Hoeffel explained.

Hoeffel said he would also:

   * Encourage the state treasurer to increase the investment of state assets into community banks and credit unions, rewarding those that make loans in the state.

   * Establish goals for placing unused bond proceeds in community banks and credit unions in the same ratio and shifting the state pension money from big banks into community banks and credit unions.

   * Push for a change in the way two percent of the state’s pension funds are invested in venture capital funds, from the current directive to “consider geographical diversity” to a strategy of investment in businesses in the commonwealth, which will give businesses a greater incentive to start in Pennsylvania.

Hoeffel also pledged to create fairer bidding practices for Pennsylvania businesses.

“When the state buys goods from out-of-state businesses, we send money out of the state and never see it again,” he explained.  “But when we buy from in-state businesses, some of that money returns to Pennsylvania in the form of taxes from the companies and workers.”

Sam Durso, Philadelphia Coordinator of the national Move Your Money Campaign, joined Hoeffel in calling for greater support of community banks and credit unions: “We thank Joe Hoeffel for his timely support, and we call on all candidates across the city and the state to join the Move Your Money campaign in supporting the community banks and credit unions that support our local economies and small businesses. Financial reform is coming, and the message is clear: now is the time to invest in the institutions that invest in us.”

Support Joe Sestak in Blue America’s Challenge

My fellow blogger Howie Klein is promoting another contest which can have a huge potential impact on our U.S. Senate primary next month.  Blue America is a national netroots (blogs) PAC which supports progressive candidates.  This week they are pitting five of them to see who could get $1 million for their Senate primary.  Our Joe Sestak is one of the five:

Tomorrow we’re going to start a “contest” to help raise money and awareness for Joe Sestak and the other 4 more progressive candidates in the May Democratic primaries, Bill Halter, Jack Conway, Elaine Marshall and Jennifer Brunner. Here’s the page we’re launching.

The idea is simple– there are 5 crucial Senate primaries in May– North Carolina, Ohio, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Each pits a more progressive grassroots candidate against a more conservative Establishment candidate. Blue America would like to see each of the progressives fight it out with a Republican in November, a way, we believe, for Democrats to capture all 5 of these crucial seats. These five primaries will go a long way towards determining if 2011 and 2012 will find the Senate a more progressive place or a more conservative place.

So… what could these candidates– in the words of Barenaked Ladies– do with a million dollars? Well, they could start to match the huge influx of corporate cash the Supreme Court has guaranteed would flow into the campaigns of corrupt Wall Street shills and conservative corporate suck-ups for starters. So Blue America has an idea for a little contest. We don’t have a million dollars to deploy yet but we do have something no Wall Street banksters have. We have a genuine RIAA-certified Barenaked Ladies multi-platinum award for STUNT. We’re going to give it to the campaign that gets the most votes at the Blue America May Senate primaries page. A vote is a donation to your favorite candidate– whether one dollar of one-hundred dollars. The candidate with the most votes gets the award disc to auction or to give away to one of their donors. Obviously it’ll be too late in November if Pennsylvania voters are forced to choose between Toomey and Snarlin’ Arlen, two Republicans.

Howie was once President of Reprise Records and has great contacts in the music business.  When he says he can get this kind of award to auction believe me he can.  Go to the Act Blue page linked above and make a contribution for Joe Sestak.  Let’s win Pennsylvania!

Which High School Gets President Obama As Their Commencement Speaker?

The White House held a conference call this afternoon to go over the competition to see which high school will have President Obama as their speaker for commencement.  Do you remember who your high school commencement speaker was?  Likely not even if it was just last year.  Six schools are in the finale of this effort and Friday they will be reduced to three.  Next Monday the President will announce his choice from the final 3.  You can vote beginning today by clicking here.  The sequence of schools coming onto the page differ so no one has a clear advantage.  The ratings are skewed so as to minimize multiple voting.  Three of the finalists are charter schools but the White House says that isn’t because the President is a major fan of them.

A reporter from the Kansas City Star mentioned on the conference call there are reports out of Overland Park (a suburb of KC) that some parents will not allow their students to attend commencement if the President is the speaker.  I suppose these are the Birthers who still think he is Kenyan.  Go watch the videos and rate each school.  A thousand high schools applied for this competition and I think its rather neat the White House thought to do this.