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Stimulus bill has $2.3 mil for schools / February 19, 2009
Halifax County will receive $2.3 million for education spending from the $780 billion federal stimulus package signed into law this week by President Obama, said Fifth District Rep. Tom Perriello on Tuesday.
Perriello, who is slated to visit town on Friday afternoon to discuss the stimulus package with local officials, said that localities will have "a fair amount of flexibility" in determining how education funds should be spent, with much of the money earmarked for construction and renovation. School officials have indicated they may use the stimulus money to pay for roof repairs at Halifax County High School after state funding for the project dried up.
The stimulus package also extends jobless benefits, helps laid-off workers keep their COBRA health insurance benefits, and boosts Virginia's beleaguered Medicaid program, the target of budget-cutting at the state level, noted Perriello.
Proponents argue that the stimulus package will stem job losses that otherwise would result from state and local government budget cutting, while creating new jobs by investing in education, infrastructure and medical technologies. Opponents have criticized the bill as pork barrel spending.
Perriello noted, however, that "there's not a single earmark" in the package, which passed the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote. "Frankly, most of my colleagues would have preferred a big bill that we could have packed a lot of pork into," Perriello said.
To pass a clean bill quickly, the Obama Administration and congressional leaders decided early in the process to keep earmarks out of the stimulus.
Another feature of the stimulus package, said Perriello, is that "the middle class tax cut is actually the largest middle class tax cut in American history." The bill includes a "Making Work Pay" tax credit of $400 per worker — $800 for couples filing jointly — and a child tax credit of up for $1,000 per child for 269,000 children.
The stimulus also includes a provision authored by Perriello and Texas congressman Lloyd Doggett to give education tax credits to working families and displaced workers. The American Opportunity Tax Credit, the first bill introduced by Perriello to become law, will help four million American households pay for school and textbook costs, according to a release from Perriello's office.
In 2009 and 2010, taxpayers can claim a credit of up to $2,500 for the cost of tuition and related expenses such as textbooks, which would be included for the first time. Up to $1,000 of the credit is refundable. Perriello said the tax break was excluded in the version of the stimulus bill that came out of the Senate, "but we won it back in conference."
The tax credit will be phased out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of more than $80,000 ($160,000 for married couples filing jointly). Perriello estimated the total amount of tax relief at $13.9 billion.
Perriello said he fought for another feature in the stimulus package that should be especially helpful to localities in Southside Virginia — a boost in funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. CDBG grants pay for a variety of local infrastructure projects, from downtown revitalization to water and sewer improvements, and "that is something communities can use at the local level," said Perriello.
"A lot of programs that Halifax County already use at the state and federal level to pay for things will get a big influx of funds," said Perriello.
The White House has estimated that the stimulus package will create or save 7,600 jobs in the Fifth District, out of a total target of 3.5 million jobs nationwide. Officials have not provided job estimates broken down by locality in the Fifth District.

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