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Tom Perriello | Fifth District Report

I am proud to announce that this week the first piece of legislation I co-authored as a congressman became law. The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides $2,500 a year for the cost of tuition and related expenses (including textbooks for the first time) to individuals making less than $80,000 per year. Up to $1,000 of this tuition tax credit will be refundable, which can be particularly important for displaced workers hoping to pay for advanced training at a community college or university. This tax relief can begin to apply to tuition for the current semester, and is estimated to benefit 71,000 Virginians.

This tax credit is one of the many provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which I voted for. However, I voted with Republicans in demanding that the final version of the bill be posted publicly on the internet for 48 hours before the final vote.

I know that we are all deeply concerned about this economic crisis with nearly 20,000 Americans losing their jobs each day, but many of us are equally concerned about the national debt and many of the rumors about this new Recovery Bill. Let me outline some aspects of the stimulus that I consider vital for our communities, and then mention other aspects that concern me greatly.

This bill includes the largest middle-class tax cut in American history, desperately needed support to our local schools, and job-creating investments in modern infrastructure and the new energy economy. This recovery plan is estimated to create or save 7,600 jobs in the Fifth District of Virginia. Since Southside has lost more than 10,000 jobs in the past decade, this is clearly only the first step on the road to recovery, but it is a solid step in the right direction.

Major benefits of the bill to Southside include:

1. Creating educational opportunities for our kids: Virginia will receive an additional $1.7 billion over the next two years in education funding.

2. Improving our roads and bridges, and creating jobs immediately: Virginia will receive nearly $694 million for roads and bridges, and $890 million for infrastructure investments.

3. Providing tax relief to working Americans: each working family will receive a tax rebate of up to $400 per worker earning up to $75,000 and $800 for married couples earning up to $150,000.

4. Helping our neighbors who have lost good-paying jobs: the bill will extend unemployment benefits and subsidize 65 percent of COBRA premiums for up to 9 months so families can keep their health coverage.

5. Lowering energy costs and helping families to make ends meet: the bill includes $5 billion to help families lower their heating and cooling bills by increasing the per-home assistance for the Weatherization Assistance Program from $2,500 to $6,500.

I also have serious concerns with the recovery package. First and foremost, it does not include any steps to address America’s financial stability or reverse the huge deficits run up in recent years. Second, I would have preferred that a higher percentage of the package be devoted to a sustained commitment to rebuilding America’s infrastructure. These projects are the clearest job-creators, and also create value for our communities.

Third, I fought hard for small towns and rural communities to get our fair share of federal education funds. While we won this victory for most of the funding, the Senate insisted that the school construction funds pass through state legislatures. As such, we will need to work together to make sure that Southern Virginia is not left out of this opportunity to modernize our schools for the next generation.

Finally, I believe that “smart grid” technology will be crucial for turning our rural communities into the frontlines of the new energy boom. This recovery package begins to open up these opportunities, but we will need to make more aggressive strides in the months ahead to unleash that potential.

Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may write to me at 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515; call (202) 225-4711; or visit


– Tom Perriello represents the Fifth District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives.