On my way from Scranton to Washington this morning, I stopped in Folcroft, Delaware County to tour LithChem, a small business doing great work with new energy technology. They are on the cutting edge of research and development of new batteries for national defense, solar panels and recycling of hazardous materials.
In addition to giving me a refresher course on physics and chemistry, the LithChem team said that they're ready to create new jobs and expand their business. As a company of eight employees, LithChem has faced many of the struggles that all small businesses have been up against during these tough economic times, but they are looking to the future and are ready to hire.
As I talked with Novis Smith and other LithChem employees, it became clear that their company is a great model of how my Job Creation Tax Credit proposal can help small businesses. My proposal will give tax incentives to encourage new job creation, which will ultimately lead us out of this recession. LithChem's management told me that they are looking to expand to 35 employees and my proposal will help them accomplish their goal.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at LithChem and wish them and all of our small businesses in Pennsylvania the best of luck.
Located in Dauphin County, Steelton was once a booming steel community, but times have changed. The steel mills are long gone, and now green energy is taking root with the Steelton Solar Project, which has received $655,000 in federal economic recovery funds to build a 500 kilowatt-hour solar facility. The project will not only create clean energy, but also new jobs. I have and will continue to support clean energy job creation to ensure further economic growth and recovery in Pennsylvania.
On Friday, January 15, I joined York’s mayor, Kim Bracey, at the Market & Penn Street Farmers’ Market to announce that York City will receive $779,200 in federal funding for the city’s two farmers’ markets. The money will be used for restoration purposes at both the Farmers’ Market and the Central Market located at Beaver and Philadelphia Streets. During my visit, I met many vendors who stressed the important role the market plays in providing fresh, affordable and in-season, locally grown produce. I even had time to pick up some ham, apples and a sandwich for lunch. I’m proud to support this type of vital economic development project; it helps to make available healthy and nutritious foods, and I feel it will have a positive impact on the community.
Continuing my discussions around the Commonwealth on jobs, on January 6th I met with local leaders in business, education and government from across Northampton County. The focus of this meeting was to discuss plans for creating jobs in the region. During the discussion, held at C.F. Martin Guitar Company in Nazareth, I heard good, common sense ideas about how we can continue to rebuild the economy and get more Pennsylvanians back to work.
Also, today I met with community leaders of the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce and Berks Economic Partnership to hear their strategic plan for the region and discuss how we can work together to explore ideas to create jobs and drive economic development.
As I return to Washington this week, I look forward to turning those ideas into action. That is why I am proposing a job creation tax credit to help employers hire workers, put money back into local economies and spur economic growth. While we have made progress responding to the economic crisis, more needs to be done to increase job growth in the short-term and the long-term. To learn more about my proposed credit, please see my press release.
While traveling around Pennsylvania this week, the cold winter weather and the rising cost of electricity and home heating has had me thinking of the many Pennsylvanians struggling to pay their utility bills. Since joining the Senate, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to increase home energy assistance. I strongly supported funding Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at $5.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2010, the same as Fiscal Year 2009 and the highest level ever funded for the program. As rising energy prices, a slowing economy and increasing food costs place a heavy burden on our must vulnerable citizens, the federal government has a responsibility to help people afford the most basic needs.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last month reported that 17,000 households in the state were without heat. It greatly troubles me that in Fiscal Year 2009, the number of homeowners whose utility service was disconnected increased by 5 percent because people could not afford to pay. This increase is especially alarming in light of the fact that federal emergency-bill assistance doubled this year and in many parts of the country utility rates lowered. Over the past two years, our Nation has endured the most difficult economic situation in recent memory. In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate has grown to 8.5 percent, which means that over half a million people are out of work. It is very important that as our economy recovers, people continue to have electricity, especially during the winter months.
Although as a U.S. Senator I am unable to take direct action on Pennsylvania’s decision to deregulate its electricity generation industry, I am watching the situation closely. Experts predict that deregulation will cause an increase in electricity bills when rate caps expire, which has already occurred in parts of the state and will be completed by 2011. I am very concerned about what such an increase would mean for the people and industries located in our state. For this reason, I have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to look into competition and rates in wholesale electricity markets. I will continue to follow this critically important issue. For those interested in learning more about how to better shop for residential electricity, I recommend visiting the Pennsylvania Office of the Consumer Advocate’s website.