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August 22, 2014, 1:54 am

Fattah: Let’s get to work and restore the dream

Consider the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program — TAACCCT for short.

President Barack Obama didn’t use that full title Tuesday night during his State of the Union address. But what he did say about this program with a major Philadelphia impact tells us a lot about what our educational institutions — and our government — can do to bring well paying jobs to our region and rebuild the nation’s manufacturing base. It’s all about training and educating previously unemployed young people with the specific advanced skills they need to fill tomorrow’s jobs in our growing manufacturing sector.

The president’s “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” declares the imperative to “forge new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train and place two million skilled workers.”

It’s already starting to happen. Four months ago, the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor awarded $20 million to support skilled job training programs at 14 community colleges across Pennsylvania to partner with private employers for critical jobs in the new economy. The target would be laid-off workers seeking jobs in energy, healthcare and advanced manufacturing. The Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) was designated as consortium leader. The Pennsylvania grant was part of $500 million directed to community colleges nationwide.

At CCP, moving this program into action is already underway. Staff has been hired to administer the grant and work with all participating community colleges to develop the skilled training courses that will help individuals shape and win their own future.

Job retraining for high-demand fields wasn’t the only portion of the president’s address that hits close to home.

The president, on his legislative to-do list, asked Congress to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which I authored as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. I proposed to make the credit permanent in November 2010. The Recovery Act, you’ll recall, is the stimulus program that ended the nosedive of our economy in the President’s first months in office and started us on the way back -- a 22-month rise in private sector job growth, 3.2 million new jobs in all.

The AOTC is a tax credit that low to middle income students or their parents can claim on their income taxes for expenses related to higher education: tuition, books, fees and other expenses, up to $2,500 a year. The President, citing AOTC by name, pegged the value of the credit at $10,000 over four years of college. The AOTC was originally enacted for two years, and then extended another two years. It is set to expire this year. The President, citing its value in advancing the dream of higher education for all, wants to end that uncertainty with a program written into law, period.

Here is how well it is working: For the 2011 tax year, the Treasury Department estimates that for Pennsylvania alone, 372,000 families will file for the credit, with $856 million allotted to recipients who will receive an average of $2,300. 

The President’s Blueprint brims with good ideas, workable ideas that will speed our recovery and lift all boats. Rebuild highways, bridges and other infrastructure. Make our tax code fair by eliminating all the winks, gimmicks and low rates that encourage the rich to get richer. Pick up the pace of education reform to reward best practices, make higher education affordable and level the playing field between “have” and “have-not” school districts. Discourage outsourcing to far-away places and urge our manufacturers and innovators to adopt a not-so-new concept: “in-sourcing” of jobs, products and markets.

The president wants us to secure the American Dream and pave the way for a promising future for all. He has called on Congress to put aside partisan bickering and get to work supporting dynamic programs that strategically invest in American global competitiveness. I, for one, look forward to working with the administration to support the president’s efforts.

We’ve all bought into the dream of a good paying job, home ownership and a reliable retirement.  But for many, especially those in the working and middle class, that dream is fading. The president said it best: “Our job is to lead a nation where every American gets a fair shot, does their fair share and plays by the same set of rules.” Now let’s get to work, rebuild and restore the American Dream.


U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (PA-02) is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies, which includes manufacturing and scientific research.