From the Villager Newspapers:
Courtney visits Quiet Corner towns
April 29, 2011
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney stopped by the Day Kimball Pediatric Center in North Grosvenordale on Tuesday, April 26 to read to children as part of the Reach Out and Read Program.
Reach Out and Read is a nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.
“The Reach Out and Read program has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children across eastern Connecticut, and the partnerships between Reach Out and Read and doctors across the country have become one of the most successful literacy initiatives in history,” said Courtney.
Courtney helped hand out new books to the children and read a few books aloud, including “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” by Eileen Christelow.
According to the website, more than a third of American children enter kindergarten without basic language skills needed to learn how to read, including recognizing letters of the alphabet, understanding books are read left to right, and being able to understand and tell stories. The program seeks to combat illiteracy and make sure children are school ready. The website also states that reading difficulty contributes to school failure so children need to be protected against illiteracy during the years before they enter school.
The program relies on pediatric healthcare providers becoming trained in a three-part model to promote early literacy and school readiness. In the exam room, doctors and nurses speak to parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children and offer age appropriate tips. The provider gives every child six months to five years old a new book to take home and keep. In the waiting rooms there are displays as well as information and books to promote literacy.
Providers are also encouraged to find volunteers readers to entertain children and model for the parents the benefits and techniques of reading aloud. Since the model was developed in 1989 by pediatricians and early childhood educators, Reach Out and Read has served 3.9 million families. The first peer reviewed study on the program, “Clinic-Based Intervention to promote Literacy – A Pilot Study,” by Dr. Robert Needlman found that parents who are given books and literacy guidance are four times more likely to report reading aloud at home.
“Having made literacy a key focus of my education agenda, I was proud to join Dr.Matsen and Connecticut Reach Out and Read to see firsthand the benefit of this program,” said Courtney.
Courtney’s visit to the Pediatric Center was one of three stops in the northeast corner.
The congressman also stopped at RADeCO, Radiation Detection Company in Plainfield. The manufacturer has built radiation air sampling units being used by the U.S. Military at three air bases in Japan in the wake of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster. RADeCO has been a supplier of air samplers to various branches of the military and to the nuclear industry for the past 35 years. The company has sold over 3,000 air-sampling kits to U.S. Air Force bases around the world. They have had orders for both instrumentation and dosimeters as a result of the Fukushima disaster, including an order in house for 100,000 RADView Dosimeters to Japan. The RADView dosimeter is credit card-sized, color-changing dosimeter for use by emergency responders, as well as for triaging the general public should they be exposed. Courtney also visited Putnam Science Academy, which recently placed first in the State of Connecticut’s Science Fair, making them eligible for the national competition.
From the Hartford Courant:
Rep. Courtney Visits Farm To Address Rising Fuel Costs
The Hartford Courant
April 28, 2011
Hytone Farm is a fourth-generation, family-owned dairy farm in Coventry, but these days life on the farm is less than idyllic. Like other Connecticut businesses, Hytone is getting squeezed by rising fuel costs.
Each day the dairy produces 1,900 gallons of milk, but the cost of keeping Bossy in soybeans and hay is mounting. To feed the farm’s 240 cows and 200 calves, Hytone grows its own hay. That requires more than sun, soil and water — it requires diesel-powered tractors and trucks to bring in the crop, said Greg Peracchio, one of the farm’s three owners.
“Last year, we spent $25,000 on diesel fuel, but with fuel prices moving from around $2.60 a gallon last year to over $4.20 this year, we’re looking at a substantial increase in energy costs,” Peracchio said. The farm employs two full-time workers and two part-time workers year-round, adding several seasonal employees in the summer.
Hytone proved an illustrative backdrop for U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who visited the farm Thursday morning and told reporters that soaring fuel costs “threaten…our entire economic recovery.”
Courtney unveiled a three-point plan to reduce rising fuel prices, providing relief to small businesses. The plan would rein in speculators, ramp up domestic oil production and promote clean energy technology to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil — three strategies that many business executives and elected officials have embraced.
Gas prices have risen more than 40 cents a gallon in Connecticut just in the past few weeks.
Agriculture is very much a part of the business picture in central Connecticut, said R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, president of MetroHartford Alliance, who was also at Hytone Thursday.
“While we’re focused a lot on manufacturing and the insurance and financial service sector,” Griebel said, “a vibrant farming community here is important to all of us.”
Peracchio said he and other local farmers had hoped to see some gains this year.
“At the end of 2008 and going into 2009, we didn’t have enough profit at the end of the year to meet our salaries. Last year we broke even. This year we hoped to recoup some of those losses, but now with our input costs rising, we’re just kind of maintaining,” Peracchio said.
Courtney noted that there are no “silver bullets” to lower fuel costs. But he said, “there are steps we can — and must — take now, like reining in the speculators who account for as much as $27 of the cost of each barrel of oil.”
There is a debate over how speculation affects energy prices: some say speculators add to the cost of energy by taking profits, while others argue that their presence leads to lower prices by making the markets more efficient, matching buyers and sellers.
Courtney said a 2008 study says that the number of speculators — traders who never take possession of oil — increased 16 percent from 1998 to 2008, and now account for more than 57 percent of traders.
Their increase has led to volatility in the markets and higher prices at the pump, he said. Courtney supports limiting the impact of speculators and has urged the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission to tighten regulations on speculators.
From The Bulletin:
Courtney targets speculators
Apr 28, 2011
Eastern Connecticut’s congressman fired another volley at energy market speculators Thursday, unveiling ideas he hopes will curb gasoline price hikes.
The plans point in the right direction but more needs to be considered, a market analyst said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, detailed plans under categories including “responsible” domestic oil exploration and investments in “clean” energy technology to cut foreign petroleum dependence. He outlined the strategy during a visit to Hytone Farm in Coventry.
“With sharp increases in gas prices over the past few weeks, we are heading to an unchartered territory where the cost of fuel threatens our entire economic recovery,” Courtney said, adding that speculators are adding as much as $27 to each barrel of oil.
He reiterated his calls for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to speed up its ruling-making processes for the increasing number of market traders that never actually take delivery of oil.
“Loose” monetary policy by the Federal Reserve is fueling the speculation and driving up the prices of other commodities, including food and gold, said Eugene Guilford Jr., president of the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.
“As long as the Fed continues this way, Wall Street will continue what it’s been doing,” said Guilford, whose group represents gas station owners. The wholesale price of gasoline in Connecticut rose 6 cents following Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conference Wednesday.
A budget deal between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and General Assembly majority leaders includes a 3-cent increase in the gas excise tax, which means more pain for Connecticut consumers, Guilford said.
Among Courtney’s ideas are tax breaks and other incentives for the development of natural gas vehicles and fueling stations as well as requiring federal land leased for oil exploration be used for that purpose.
Hytone Farm is a member of The Farmer’s Cow LLC milk cooperative. Its farmers have expressed concern about the trend in commodities prices.
From the Hartford Business Journal:
State’s shellfish growers see hope in marketing bill
Special to the Hartford Business Journal
April 25, 2011
While most Connecticut residents see the state’s miles of shoreline as a pleasant place to spend a summer afternoon, Jim Markow sees a vast business opportunity lurking just beneath the sand.
Markow is an oyster farmer who harvests 20 million seeds a year for local growers and markets across the region. But he wonders what the market would be like if people in the nation’s heartland knew what he does about the benefits of sustainable shellfish.
That’s why he and the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative pushed Connecticut’s congressional delegation to sponsor a bill that would put the state’s shellfish industry on equal footing with other food producers in seeking federal money for marketing specialty crops.
The Shellfish Marketing Assistance Fairness Act, introduced last month by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Vernon), a member of the agriculture committee, would allow aqua farmers in Connecticut to apply for grants that help promote their products.
A 2004 farming bill that authorized $54 million in funding over five years to producers of specialty crops excluded farmed shellfish growers from the list, making them ineligible for the federal marketing help.
The new marketing bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, would add the shellfish farmers to the list so they can compete with growers of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, honey, maple syrup, dried fruits and nursery crops.
“Most people don’t associate Connecticut with oysters,” said Markow, a member of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, a 10-member group backing the proposed marketing bill. “We grow a great crop that is sustainable and healthy. We want people to know that and recognize our aquaculture products.”
Markow, a Connecticut shellfish farmer since 1989, believes the marketing bill will pay off for farmers down the road.
“We’ll eventually feel the impact of it, if it passes. But we’re not going to notice anything big from it at first,” said Markow. “The bill just gives us a fair chance to compete for the same money specialty crop growers have access to.”
Bob Rheault, executive director for the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, agrees.
“It’s not a lot of money, but we’ll take anything we can,” said Rheault. “Any money we spend on the shellfish industry is going to benefit the farmers. Hopefully they will see their businesses grow from it.”
Although there are no plans yet for how the money would be used, Rheault said it could go toward increasing awareness at festivals and other public events. He said it could also help pay for public outreach efforts like brochures, fliers and recipes, food tastings and industry research.
Rheault said the marketing bill would be particularly helpful to the 1,000 farms along the East Coast with fewer than 10 employees.
In Connecticut, an estimated 45 businesses farm shellfish on 22,000 acres of leased state land and another 67,000 acres on privately owned property.
There are no figures available on exactly how many oysters are harvested in the state because farmers stopped reporting that information to the state several years ago when lawmakers proposed taxing the harvest, said Rheault.
Groups like the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, Connecticut Seafood Council and University of Connecticut Sea Grant, which support the proposed bill, would be able to apply for the grants that could be used toward marketing and promoting the local oyster industry and shellfish farmers.
Oyster farming generates more than $15 million in sales annually and provides more than 300 jobs in the aquaculture industry.
“The marketing bill Joe Courtney introduced would help the seafood industry reach out to more people and provide us the opportunity to talk about what we do,” said Stephen Plant, owner of Connecticut Cultured Oysters.
“We don’t have trouble selling to stores and restaurants,” said Plant. “The grant money could really help us educate customers about the benefits of eating shellfish and the positive impacts it has on the environment.”
“People don’t eat shellfish at home because they don’t know how to prepare it,” said Plant.
Oysters are the largest seafood product in Connecticut, the leading state in the northeast for all aquaculture, according to Plant. A single adult oyster filters as much as 30 gallons of water per day, which reduces the algae population.
Connecticut has received about $1.2 million through the marketing program since 2006, and expects to receive another $400,000 this year, according to Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky.
Grants of $75,000 per project are available on a competitive basis, said Jaime Smith, marketing director at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. She said the goal is to promote the industry rather than individual farmers by gearing the funds toward groups, associations and cooperatives.
From the Associated Press:
Conn. maritime industry seeks harbor dredging
April 24, 2011
HARTFORD, Conn.— Traffic at Connecticut’s three deep-water ports has been declining due to the weak economy and harbor-clogging sediment that the maritime industry says is driving away the largest ships.
William Gash, executive director of the Connecticut Maritime Coalition Inc., a trade group, says Providence and other nearby ports are luring business from shippers who see New Haven, Bridgeport and New London as less hospitable to ships requiring significant depth to maneuver.
“The ports of New London and Bridgeport are woefully underused,” Gash said. “New London has been pretty idle. That is just terrible.”
The state generates $5 billion in trade annually at the Long Island Sound commercial ports where ships deliver products including steel, road salt and fuel.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed a preliminary environmental assessment at Bridgeport Harbor and sampled and tested sediment at New Haven Harbor and found it suitable for disposal. The next stage is to dredge sediment deposited by rivers and streams into harbors and channels but those projects are several years away.
The challenge is finding the money at a time when Congress is cutting spending. Dredging the New Haven harbor, the largest in New England, would cost between $5 million and $10 million but the project is at least a few years away because federal funding is not available, said Edward O’Donnell, chief of the chief of the navigation section of the Corps in Concord, Mass.
O’Donnell said he does not know how the New Haven project would compete for financing because priorities are set in Washington “and our budget continues on a downward trend.”
The funding would come entirely from Washington if the sediment is disposed of in Long Island Sound. If the Corps finds a suitable inland location, the cost of building a disposal facility would be shared with the state or local port authority.
Dredging is generally done every 10 years with the last two New Haven projects in 1994 and 2004, he said.
State transportation officials say a preliminary total needed to dredge 12 harbors and rivers in Connecticut is between $93 million and $108 million. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who made harbor improvement an issue in his campaign last year, has proposed $50 million in state bonds in the 2012 and 2013 budget years for port upgrades, including dredging.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., has urged Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, to spend money collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for dredging. The fund has a balance of about $5.6 billion, he said.
Harbor dredging is an issue across the country. Great Lakes shipping companies say their industry would be hit hard by an Obama administration proposal to cut funding by one-third for dredging the region’s ports and waterways. In South Carolina, some state officials have expressed disappointment that the administration has set no money aside in its budget to study deepening the Charleston Harbor shipping channel.
At the New London port, traffic measured in shipping tons has fallen from about 1.4 million in 2006 to a little more than 1 million tons in 2009, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In Bridgeport, it’s declined from 5.4 million tons to about 4.6 million tons in the same period. In New Haven, traffic has dropped from 10.9 million tons to 10.1 million.
Kelly Murphy, New Haven’s economic development administrator, said the city is looking to deepen the port from 35 feet to 42 feet. The greater depth would attract larger vessels as New Haven seeks shipping of dry goods to diversify port traffic that is dominated by fuel making a stop before delivery across New England.
Bridgeport’s harbor was last dredged in 1964, said Capt. Chuck Beck, transportation maritime manager at the state Department of Transportation. The harbor in New London, with key assets such as the sub base and Coast Guard Academy, is a federal responsibility, he said.
David Pohorylo, president of New England Shipping Co. in Milford, said Connecticut’s ports do not have the depth to accommodate vessels as large as 600 to 800 feet.
“We really feel our deep water ports are an asset we don’t want to lose by neglect,” he said.
From The Bulletin:
EDITORIAL: Region must market beyond its borders
April 21, 2011
Fifteen percent of all visitors to Mystic Aquarium each year are foreign nationals visiting the United States. Not bad when one considers there is virtually no marketing being done overseas to target those potential visitors. But that’s changing.
On Wednesday morning, Peter Glankoff, senior vice president at the Sea Research Foundation at Mystic Aquarium, and others from Eastern Connecticut involved in tourism, had breakfast with a dozen tourism operators in the United Kingdom in an effort to promote our region as a tourism destination for foreign visitors.
In a telephone call from England on Tuesday, Glankoff said he was mounting an “anti-staycation” campaign. He hopes to showcase what our region has to offer visitors and increase visits to the aquarium and other regional tourism attractions.
It’s a good investment of time and energy, especially with gas prices threatening to curtail the upcoming tourism season. If those visitors are planning a trip to the states this summer, why not showcase what we have to offer? There’s much to see and do here.
Wednesday’s meeting was one of many this week by local company and tourism officials as part of trade mission to the United Kingdom. The effort is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and the U.S. Commerce Department’s District Export Council — and at no expense to taxpayers. Local companies involved in the defense industry met with major British defense contractors, hoping to expand exports.
What is particularly noteworthy about that effort is that during the height of the recent recession, our exports remained strong. We should be capitalizing on that, and growing it. The same applies to tourism. We have much to offer to visitors, but if they don’t know it exists, they’re not likely to visit.
Trade missions that allow a personal opportunity to promote ourselves are important economic tools we need to use. Courtney understands that, and he’s taking the steps needed to make it happen.
From the New London Day:
Sub-building program survives budget cuts
After a series of stopgap spending measures, Congress has finally agreed on a budget that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year – and pays for more submarines.
Struck last week to avert a shutdown of the federal government, the compromise deal cuts about $38 billion in spending. Both the House and Senate approved it Thursday, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law soon.
Despite the government’s fiscal woes and immense pressure for cuts, the Virginia-class submarine program escaped unscathed, a testament to the bipartisan support it enjoys, according to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. It marks the first time two attack submarines will be purchased in a year since 1989.
“It sort of feels like the journey in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ getting to the end here. It was a tough journey,” Courtney said Thursday. “Clearly this is a huge milestone that will, I think, really change the horizon for the shipbuilding industrial base in southeastern Connecticut in a much more positive, stable way.”
Courtney and submarine supporters were pleased with the outcome Thursday, but the past few months have been filled with uncertainty as the Navy had to twice modify its contract with Electric Boat because it lacked the money to pay for both submarines planned for this year.
Further delays could have driven up costs and affected the construction timeline. Construction on the second submarine is scheduled to begin Sept. 2. The delays to date should not cause a “significant cost increase,” and construction will start on time, the Navy said Thursday.
Hiring plan on track
EB plans to hire between 300 and 400 more engineers for its growing New London design and engineering campus. Those plans would eventually have been affected if Congress had not agreed on a budget. Thursday’s passage means the shipyard will stick to the hiring plans that were already in place.
Congress provided $5.1 billion for the Virginia-class program – $3.4 billion for the two submarines and the rest for advance procurement funding for future submarines. The budget also includes about $620 million in research and design money for the program EB is working on to replace the current fleet of Ohio-class, or Trident, submarines.
“Our ongoing submarine program is a solid, sustainable investment in our future, and well-supported by this budget, because it is vital to job growth, national security and American superiority at sea,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement Thursday. “Despite tough budget agreement cuts in many areas, I am pleased that the funding for the Navy’s Virginia-class submarine programs, which are essential to our national security, were preserved and supported.”
The total cost of the two submarines is $5.34 billion, according to the Navy, since Congress previously provided money for parts and preliminary work.
The $2 billion goal
The long-stated goal for both EB and the Navy is to get the price down to $2 billion per submarine in fiscal 2005 dollars by next year. That would mean each sub would cost about $2.6 billion in 2012 dollars.
Building more submarines is critical to reaching the $2 billion goal, since the shipyard could order parts in bulk and use its work force more efficiently, said John Holmander, EB’s vice president who manages the Virginia-class program.
“As we transition to two ships per year, certainly we will do what we said we’re going to do,” he said this week. EB needed to cut about $400 million from the cost of each ship, Holmander added.
If the government had shut down Saturday, the Department of Defense would not have had the money to pay people for the days they worked during the closure.
The USS Providence returned to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton the day before the threatened government shutdown, and spouses of the sailors said at the homecoming that they had been trying to figure out ways to make ends meet just in case – from relying on one income to taking tax refunds and re-enlistment bonuses out of savings.
The budget not only ensures that all the troops get paid but also provides a 1.4 percent raise.
Talks on the fiscal 2012 budget begin immediately. And while Courtney said he doesn’t see any trouble ahead for the submarine programs, many are predicting that the discussions will be just as contentious as they were this time around.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a statement, “We’ll have to keep on fighting for funding in the future, but today is a milestone for the submarine workforce in Connecticut.”
From the New London Day:
Finishing Route 11 moves back onto region’s to-do list
Completion of Route 11 is moving back on the list of the region’s top transportation needs.
On Monday, the Executive Committee of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments voted to return the long-delayed highway project to its list of priority projects. Members cited their reasons as interest from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a new possible funding source from tolls proposed in a bill pending before the state legislature, and a recent meeting between Malloy, Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and federal and state highway officials about environmental and financial studies.
The six-member committee’s unanimous recommendation will go to the full council for approval at its April 20 meeting. The council usually approves the committee’s recommendations, SCCOG Chairman Robert Congdon said.
The highway, which extends from Route 2 in Colchester to where it stops abruptly in Salem, would be extended about eight miles to Interstate 95 at the East Lyme-Waterford town line. Construction stopped in 1979.
Last month, the council took Route 11 off a draft version of its priority projects list, giving as reasons the poor economy and the assessment of the state Department of Transportation and federal highway officials that it is not a financially viable project. Completion is expected to cost about $1 billion, with 20 percent of that from state funding and the remainder from federal funds. The state would also have to pay debt service for the life of the bond on the project.
Congdon said the council has long been supportive of completing the highway, but took it off its draft priority list because it saw no prospect of its becoming a reality and did not want to create an “illusion of action” on the project. That changed after a March 28 public hearing on the list, when Courtney submitted a letter saying he would work with Malloy to see that the highway is built, Congdon said.
“Courtney and Malloy committed to investing the political capital,” he said. “We felt as a COG that we did not want to hinder their efforts, so we put it on the list. That’s why you have a public hearing.”
Now that the decision is being reversed, the project would join five others on the list: adding lanes to Interstate 95 from Branford to Rhode Island; improvements to routes 2, 2A and 32 and the Route 2A bridge over the Thames River; expansion of the regional bus system, including the addition of tourist routes; increased Shoreline East rail services from New London to New Haven; and the transformation of Union Station in New London into a regional, multi-modal transportation center with the state Department of Transportation as the owner.
The list is revised every three years, and serves as a guide for local and state officials about what the region considers its most important transportation needs.
From the New London Day:
Courtney wants benefits extended to fire police
Ledyard— U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney announced today that he will introduce legislation this week to extend public safety officer death benefits to fire police.
Fire police are designated members of a fire department who mainly control traffic around a fire scene and help set up equipment. Because there is no uniform national designation for fire police, many of these public servants have trouble accessing benefits that other public safety officers receive, according to Courtney’s office.
Courtney, D-2nd District, was joined by firefighters, fire police and other first responders at the Gales Ferry Fire Department for the announcement this morning.
“In towns across eastern Connecticut, fire police are first on the scene right along with police, fire fighters and EMTs,” Courtney said in a statement. “If, God forbid, they are injured or killed in service to their community, it is only right that they receive the same benefits as other public safety officers. This bill would cut through bureaucratic red tape and ensure that fire police get the benefits they earn and deserve.”
The legislation would ensure equal treatment of fire police within the Public Safety Officer’s Benefit program, clarifying their eligibility for benefits if they are killed or become disabled as a result or injuries sustained in the line of duty.
Gales Ferry Fire Chief Tony Saccone, who brought the issue to Courtney’s attention, said the benefit program “doesn’t recognize a fire policeman who daily puts his life on the line directing traffic away from emergencies.”
The bill already has two co-sponsors, reps. John Larson, D-Conn., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio.
From the New London Day:
Much-maligned mortgage program saved woman’s Groton home
New London Day
After losing her job, Jolene Picard of Groton couldn’t bear the thought of also losing her 600-square-foot home with the white picket fence.
She liked to garden. Her dogs enjoyed the yard. And Picard put nearly $20,000 of improvements – not to mention a good bit of sweat equity – into the place on Midway Oval.
She borrowed $135,000 to buy her first home in February 2006, which was close to the top of the local real estate market. When she lost her job two years ago, Picard had trouble making her $1,100 monthly mortgage payment.
“When you’re dangerously close to losing your house, that’s devastating when it’s the only thing you have,” Picard, 44, said in an interview last week. “That kind of loss – it was impossible to bear.”
Picard, whose five-year contract as a consumer education specialist for the Area Agency on Aging ended in 2009, started researching how to get help even before her job ended.
But it still took 16 months to jump through all the hoops of the federal Home Affordable Modification Program – and a seemingly endless morass of lost paperwork on the part of her lender, GMAC – before she finally received a loan that reduced her monthly payments by $500.
“They make it so difficult that you want to give up,” Picard said.
HAMP – which at last count had spent $840 million in taxpayer money – has received a ton of bad press over the past two years despite the program’s aim of helping well-intentioned homeowners avoid foreclosure. This is thanks partly to the U.S. Treasury Department’s slow implementation of Congress’ plan to help stave off one of America’s worst financial crises.
The Government Accountability Office, in a report last month, said Treasury still hadn’t implemented many of the recommendations that came out of an investigation of HAMP released last year – a probe that questioned oversight of the program, control over loan services and the ability of regulators to evaluate measures of success.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted largely along party lines to give HAMP the heave-ho. The U.S. Senate, with a Democratic majority, isn’t likely to support the move – and, even if it does, President Barack Obama has indicated he would veto the measure.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a phone interview last week that he has reservations about the implementation of HAMP, like just nearly everyone else.
“It has been very uneven, and that’s being gentle,” Courtney said.
But he said the program, after a slow start, is picking up momentum and still represents the best hope for homeowners facing financial difficulties. A background report released by Courtney’s office shows that 580,000 mortgages nationwide have been permanently modified through HAMP, with 6,845 of those loans coming from Connecticut – 483 from the Norwich-New London area alone.
“The issue that HAMP was directed at – to work out mortgages for viable homeowners – is exactly what the housing market needs,” Courtney argued. “The recovery is not going to be totally on target until housing is back.”
Courtney said banks received help right away after the financial crisis, yet many of them seem to be balking at passing the government’s largesse along to anxious homeowners. So far, HAMP has held out carrots to banks in an attempt to encourage loan modifications, but Courtney said Treasury may soon have to use stronger methods to get financial institutions to comply with the program.
“A lot of properties are falling into foreclosure status unnecessarily,” he said.
Program ‘saved my house’
Picard said she came precariously close to facing foreclosure, and credited Courtney’s office – staffer Emma Pietrantonio in particular – with helping her navigate the difficult world of HAMP.
“It’s an arduous process,” Picard said. “You’ve got to be prepared for the long haul.”
But Picard said she couldn’t imagine what it would have been like without the hope that HAMP could save her home. She wondered how people in the middle of the modification process would feel if the program was ended.
“I’m a hard-working person who fell on hard times,” she said. “I really hope they don’t get rid of it.”
A new 40-year mortgage was set up so it wouldn’t cost her more than 31 percent of her income – as opposed to the 80 percent to 90 percent that she had been putting into her home loan while living on unemployment benefits. The mortgage reduced her interest rate from a 6.25 percent fixed rate to 2 percent for the first five years, before gradually rising to a maximum 4.5 percent.
Just a few weeks after her modification went through – and nearly a year after she lost her previous job – Picard found a new position as director of admissions for a long-term care facility. The job combined with the loan modification have given Picard some financial breathing room. She no longer subsists on pasta, has reconnected her cable TV and doesn’t have to worry about veterinarian bills for her three dogs and two cats.
“I’m very happy. It saved my house,” she said. “I’m going to be grateful every day for that.”
From The Bulletin:
Sterling Fire Department gets $52K grant
For The Bulletin
Apr 02, 2011
The Sterling Fire Department has been awarded a $52,212 federal grant, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, announced.
The funds came from Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program and will be used to enhance operations and safety at the department, according to a release from Courtney’s office.
The Mansfield Division of Fire and Emergency Services also received a grant of $45,957, the release said.
The funds can be used for acquiring equipment, modifying stations or training firefighters. The program has provided $4.6 billion to first-responder organizations since 2001.