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We Now Have Reason to Hope

America is losing 20,000 jobs a day. Unemployment just hit 7.6% and states are looking at shortfalls this fiscal year that amount to 14% of their total budgets. Current projections for the next fiscal year are deficits that total 17% of budgets. And fiscal year 2011 is shaping up to be just as bad. That is why AFSCME made an economic recovery bill the top legislative priority in our "Make America Happen" campaign – our effort to win long term investment in public services, reform health care and strengthen the middle class through the Employee Free Choice Act.

AFSCME members are on the front lines as millions of our neighbors struggle to stay afloat. More than a year ago, AFSCME sounded the alarm and called for assistance for state and local governments. Now thanks to the bold leadership of President Barack Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress, help is on the way. The historic American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will go a long way toward helping states, counties and cities provide the vital services that the public relies on in times of crisis.

The plan has more than $200 billion for state and local governments. Key parts of this aid include:
• An $87 billion increase in the federal contribution for Medicaid programs, money that will immediately relieve pressures on state governments and free up resources for other purposes;
• $80 billion in new education funding to help states and local governments;
• $150 billion for improvements to transportation facilities, roads and bridges, public transit systems, clean water, flood control, school construction and energy efficiency;
• $9 billion to the States Fiscal Stabilization Fund for flexible grants for critical public services.

AFSCME started talking about the need for state and local fiscal relief more than a year ago. An increase in the Medicaid contribution to states was our idea. We went to the Hill to ask for it. We worked to get hearings and introduced bills, and we recruited both Democratic and Republican lawmakers to support state and local aid. In the past two weeks alone, AFSCME members generated more than 40,000 phone calls, personalized letters and emails to targeted members of Congress. We also held 10 state and national press conferences. Working with Americans United for Change, we launched ads targeting 21 lawmakers to vote yes on the bill and end the Republicans’ "Just Say No" campaign of obstruction.

AFSCME marshaled our resources and worked with national organizations – including those representing the governors, state legislators, mayors and others – to make sure that any recovery bill that came out of Congress would include substantial new assistance to state and local governments. Now, after more than a year of hard work, we have an economic recovery plan that includes substantial fiscal relief for states and communities.

The compromise deal doesn’t have everything we wanted in it. It’s not perfect and we know it’s not a panacea for the problems we are seeing at the state and local level. But we know that without this plan our members and the American people would feel much more pain. With it we can avoid some of the most drastic cutbacks that would otherwise be made. I am so proud of our union and what we have done to help President Obama take this first step to get our country and our economy back on track. While the road ahead will not be smooth, we now have reason to hope.

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Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.

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