November 2011 Newsletter

November 14, 2011

SOLAR UPDATE

When I introduced AB 811 four years ago, it was aimed at creating more solar jobs and cutting pollution. The bill allows local governments to sell bonds to back low-cost loans for homeowners to finance the installation of energy efficient improvements – which can range from retrofitting a house with solar panels or adding a tankless water heater. The loan is repaid through property tax assessments.

Today, California-based solar companies employ about 25,500 people, accounting for nearly a quarter of the solar industry-related jobs in the nation.

Unfortunately, progress is being hampered by government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines that prohibit issuing loans for homes with energy improvements financed through programs like AB 811 since they generally have automatic first lien priority.

Their logic seems baseless, especially in light of other special assessments that are embedded in property tax bills, such as water, sewer, and street lights, but have not raised any qualms with these two lenders.

The disruption caused by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's actions can have serious financial implications for participating local governments and for thousands of homeowners and small businesses already participating in these programs in California and across the nation.  Twenty-two states, as well as the District of Columbia, have authorized local governments to start their own programs similar to AB 811.

During the past months, I have been working with my federal and state colleagues to convince Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac officials to reconsider their position.

Recognizing the negative impact on jobs, Congress introduced HR 2599 to prevent Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other federal residential and commercial mortgage lending regulators from adopting policies that contradict established State and local Property Assessed Clean Energy laws like AB 811.

Given the need for more jobs in California, as well as the rest of the country, state and federal legislators need to continue to pressure Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to change their position.

OUR VETERANS

On Veterans Day, I paid homage to the men and women in the military who have served our country by taking part in the dedication of the first phase of the Campbell Veterans Memorial.

Over 2.1 million veterans live in California, the highest population of any state. We know more soldiers will be coming home now that the war in Iraqi is winding down and it’s up to us to honor them by ensuring their re-entry into civilian life is smooth. But for some returning soldiers, it will be hard.

In particular, access to mental health treatment will be critical for many veterans coping with war trauma.

A Department of Veterans Affairs report in 2003 found more than 90 percent of Army and Marine personnel deployed in Iraq saw dead bodies; more than 90 percent were shot at; more than 85 percent knew someone who was killed or seriously injured. And, their deployments were longer.

Research of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom vets indicate close to one-fifth of them were likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps as many as one-quarter suffered from depression.

This is why mental health treatment must be a priority and this is one of the many reasons that my bill, AB 154, needs to become law. This legislation stops health plans and insurers from denying coverage for medical treatment of a mental illness or substance abuse disorder.

In addition, the state Assembly is aggressively working toward improving the performance of state agencies and departments that administer programs which provide services to veterans.

FEEDING THE HUNGRY

Last year, there was a gap of 137 million meals between the number needed to feed the hungry in Santa Clara County and the number of meals provided by government agencies and food-assistance organizations, according to the Hunger Index compiled by the Second Harvest Food Bank and Santa Clara University. Let’s work to close this gap.

As the holiday season nears and the need for food becomes more acute, I urge you to give donations of food or cash to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The food bank’s Holiday Food and Fund Drive has set a goal of raising $11.3 million and 11.6 million pounds of food. Click here to learn what you can do.

One of out of 10 people in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties receive food from Second Harvest, a non-profit organization that partners with over 300 other non-profit agencies to provide food at nearly 650 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and after-school programs.

ADOPTION AWARENESS MONTH

Many people know me for my work on behalf of foster youth. I’ve introduced laws to extend foster care benefits for eligible emancipated youths between the ages of 18 and 21 and to ensure former foster youth at our public colleges are granted priority registration to enroll in classes.

As the chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care, I am constantly exploring ways to improve and refine our foster care system in California to make it more equitable for both the children and foster parents.

Foster children require a stable and safe home. Many times, reunification with the parents is not in the best interests of the children. The state has been working to encourage and make it easier for the children’s relatives to become their guardians under the Kin-Gap program.

However, the one thing we know for sure is that adoption works. Unfortunately, there are still thousands of adolescents who wait in the system for years, often reaching the age of 18 without the involvement of an adult in their lives. We know that good outcomes are produced when a foster child has an involved adult in their life.

I bring this up because November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Every child deserves a safe, loving and permanent home. I applaud all the adoptive families who have displayed the love, heart, and courage to open their homes to a foster child.

MY EDUCATION CORNER

Education is the great socio-economic leveler of our society. The rough recession in an era of dwindling budgets has challenged California’s public schools and colleges to continue its commitment to students and parents by furnishing a solid and meaningful education.

The National Education Association’s 90th annual American Education Week (Nov. 13-19) has made it its mission to focus on the importance of bringing together parents, teachers, students, and educators, in a unified effort to reinvest in our public schools.  For more information on American Education Week, visit the NEA website.

. . . And finally, parents of high school seniors, here’s a reminder: College applications for California State University and University of California campuses are due by Nov. 30 for enrollment in the fall of 2012.