0

Minimum wage rises, legislators pass housing bill

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Efforts to raise the minimum wage in the United States have succeeded.

The federal minimum wage went up Thursday, from $5.85 to $6.55 an hour. The increase is the second step in a three-part measure by Congress, to raise the amount to $7.25. The full increase will be reached by the end of the next 12 months.

One of the legislators who pushed hardest for the wage hike was Georgia Congressman David Scott (D-District 13). Scott said the bill providing the increase is "timely" and "very, very important" for the country.

"These are extraordinarily tough economic times," he said. "People are virtually hanging on by their fingernails. The economy has not been hit this way since the Great Depression."

The increase, Scott said, comes at a crucial time for families, as they reap the benefits of President George W. Bush's economic stimulus package. The Georgia representative said those two elements, when combined, "keep the economy going," and keep money in supply for residents. "Without dispute, the numbers show that raising the minimum wage is a vital step to strengthening and growing our economy over the long-term," said Scott in a press release issued Wednesday.

"This month's increase serves as another step to make a real difference in the lives of America's working families."

The congressman said the current national economic picture is one which "requires a serious dose of medicine and strategic surgery." With the minimum wage successfully raised, Scott added that he and other lawmakers are now turning their attention toward helping families improve their standing in the area of housing.

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday gave final approval to House Resolution 3221, or the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act. The legislation combines several housing bills to expand offerings by the Federal Housing Administration, and to reform the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage programs.

Scott is the senior Georgia representative on the House Financial Services Committee, which created the housing legislation. He said the purpose of the resolution is to allow homeowners the freedom to renegotiate their mortgages, and to "restore confidence" to investors.

"We had to send a message to Wall Street, that we would make the necessary moves to sustain the viability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," he said. "[To do that], we gave the Treasury Department emergency authority through Dec. 31, 2009 to purchase stock in those companies. We also gave the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to open a line of credit of about $2.5 billion. That could steady the markets, without our having to spend a dime."

The proposed measure also calls for $4 billion in grants and loans, to be directed to state and local governments to buy, rehabilitate and re-sell or rent foreclosed homes. The bill would also raise the cap on the amount of mortgage loans, from $475,000 to $625,000.

In a statement issued earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the proposed legislation, "the most comprehensive response yet" to the ongoing mortgage crisis. "[The bill] will help families facing foreclosure keep their homes, help other families avoid foreclosures in the future, and help the economic recovery of communities harmed by empty homes caught in the foreclosure process."

Rep. Scott said he is committed to continuing to fight on behalf of homeowners, both nationally and in his home state. "Georgians are facing a wave of foreclosures that threaten families' stability and the safety of entire neighborhoods," he said.

"We have responded by passing the most significant housing bill in a generation to fight predatory lending, which will allow families to refinance their mortgages and provide neighborhood sustainability."

The housing bill will now be sent to a congressional conference committee for revisions, before being submitted to the President for consideration.