Recovery and Reinvestment Act: Where the Money Is Going

President Obama signed the $787 Billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law earlier this week. The law marks a monumental shift in how we choose to allocate our resources. We saw the Bush administration pass emergency spending measures to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghansitan time and time again. Then, in the face of the economic crisis, President Bush chose to bailout banks, financial institutions, and insurers. One month into the Obama Administration, his first emergency supplemental will save our schools, environment, and infrastructure, things that benefit every American. Here we take a look at how the bill impacts the UUA’s Legislative Objectives for the 111th Congress. While it advanced many of our objectives, it must be noted that on some issues (immigration and reproductive health), we took some steps backwards. But on the whole, given our objectives, this law is cause for celebration!

Environmental Justice

In 2007, both the Green Jobs Act and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant were made law, but the necessary funding was not appropriated. Times have quickly changed and we see an unprecedented commitment towards green jobs and energy efficiency. The Economic Recovery bill invests $500 million in the Green Jobs Act, an increase of 400% of the original allocation. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant is getting $3.2 billion, an increase of over 50%. And the Weatherization Assistance Program is getting $5 billion. These investments will create green jobs, creating employment opportunities for unemployed and under-employed workers, as well as reduce the energy costs of low-income families.

Peace

Peacemaking means creating safe places for children everywhere – including the United States.

$54 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cuts in state aid to school districts, with up to $10 billion for school repair will allow children in the US to learn and grow in healthy and comfortable environments.

Gulf Coast Recovery

$375 million is going to the Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen Mississippi River levees.
$500,000 is going to create an ombudsman for FEMA to arbitrate Rita and Katrina related damages
$100,000 is going to support volunteer efforts for Gulf Coast Recovery through Dept of Labor (Americorps)

Violence Against Womens

The Economic Recovery bill includes $325 million in critical funding for the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act. This money will provide states with grants for doing work to combat domestic violence and help fund transitional housing for survivors of violence. $100 million of this money dedicated to the Victims of Crime Act will create and sustain thousands of jobs for victim advocates and specialized law enforcement officers.

Reproductive Health

However, funding that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to allow more women and families to obtain contraception and family planning services was one of the first things to be cut from the original stimulus package. Women living in poverty are four times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times more likely to have an unintended birth than women who live above the poverty line. The family planning funding in the stimulus plan would have increased the reproductive freedom of thousands of women and saved money on health services due to the consequences of unintended pregnancy in the long run. (From the Claremont Port Side magazine). $87 billion over the course of two years was provided that will protect people who are currently eligible to receive family planning services through Medicaid comprehensive coverage.


Immigration

$720 million is going towards improving security at the border and ports of entry. A significant proportion of that money is going towards the continued construction on the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. This wall is opposed by a broad coalition of immigration activists, environmentalists, ranchers and other property owners, and local governments. Not only does it increase misery and risk of death for undocumented workers, but also for endangered wildlife. The wall should be torn down, not further funded.

For more information on the Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its impact, see the White House’s new website devoted to providing full transparency on the recovery process: recovery.gov.

Ending a Culture of Rape in the Military

Social theorists from feminist sociologists, like Audre Lorde, to institutional anthropologists, like Michel Foucault, agree that rape is never about sex. Rape is about power. Rape and sexual abuse dehumanizes and humiliates its victims. Its effects ripple through societies beyond those who are abused. This is why rape has been used as a very effective tool by invading armies. It has been documented that rape and sexual humiliation have been used in nearly every war since the Roman Empire. And it is widely recognized as a tool of genocide. Rape has been found in the holocaust as well as the Serbian, Rwandan and Sudanese genocides. And it has been a tool of torture in many international conflicts.

The effects of rape include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and often share similar results to what veterans of war and conflict experience. People who experience sexual violence during war time suffer the dual stress of sexual violence and war. It is for these reasons and more, the use of sexual violence is banned under international law as a crime against humanity.

It should come as no surprise, however, with this long history of rape in wartime, that reports of sexual violence and humiliation at the hands of U.S. soldiers are making their way into the public. Three years ago when pictures of sexual humiliation and sodomy came out of Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, the public was outraged—and rightly so. But the media, public opinion and the Department of Defense all categorized it as a fluke. Recently, though, we have come to realize that Abu Ghraib was not a fluke, but rather, a harbinger of events to come.

In July of 2006, a group of U.S. service members were investigated by The Pentagon for allegedly raping and killing an Iraqi civilian. And similar stories of soldiers raping women in Iraq are more common that we wish. A horrific story involving a KBR contractor being imprisoned and raped by her colleagues chilled the nation. Last February, a New York Times article reported these are just few of 124 reported sexual assaults investigated in Iraq since 2005. But what is more disturbing is the fact that more than 2,200 sexual assaults have been investigated by the Department of Defense in 2006 alone. It is unknown how many of these took place in Iraq.

A culture of rape is very real in the U.S. Military and it can no longer be ignored. Gruesome accounts of sexual violence between soldiers, military contractors and civilians are all too regular. And the Department of Defense cannot consider these as isolated incidents. As women service members have called for more accountability, the DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reached out to organizations like the Miles Foundation and Men Can Stop Rape to address the very real culture of rape facing our military. Currently the Veteran Affairs has sixteen care centers for veterans who have experienced sexual assault—many of whom experienced their trauma as far back as Vietnam or World War II.

Currently, the organization Color of Change is calling for Congress to investigate the apparent rape and murder of Pfc. LaVena Johnson in Iraq. Please visit their campaign for Pfc. Johnson. And to learn more about the DoD is working to prevent sexual assault, please visit the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office website at http://www.sapr.mil/.