April 5, 2013
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) recently took additional steps to help homeowners who are struggling to keep current on their mortgages with its new Streamlined Modification Initiative. This program applies to loans owned or guaranteed by either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Homeowners who are at least 90 days behind on their mortgage will automatically be given the opportunity to modify their loan. Homeowners will be sent a trial loan modification plan with a new monthly payment and an interest rate of 4%. Payment terms for the loan will be extended to 40 years. If the borrower makes three on time monthly payments at the new rate, then the modification becomes permanent. If they miss a payment during the trial period, the new terms are invalidated.
This is a straightforward way to help many homeowners who are struggling to meet their mortgage obligations. It provides quicker access to modifications with fewer administrative burdens. I understand that some homeowners are simply too far behind to avoid foreclosure. However, there are many homeowners who just need a little help to stabilize their mortgages. I have long argued for programs targeting people who cannot qualify for refinancing but who still have the capacity to pay their mortgage under adjusted terms so they can keep their homes.
There are also programs available to help homeowners who are not behind on their mortgage payments of if their loan is underwater. The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) allows homeowners with mortgages held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance into loans with more favorable terms and at today’s lower interest rates. HARP has already helped over 2 million families refinance.
If you’d like to learn more about the Streamlined Modification Initiative, please read:
Charles River Conservancy
I met this week with members of the Charles River Conservancy, an organization that works to protect the Charles River and surrounding parklands. One of the Conservancy’s goals is to improve river water quality so that it can again be open for public swimming. Members also work to enhance the land around the river for recreational purposes.
Conservancy members met with me to talk about the upcoming reconstruction of several bridges over the Charles River. As part of those reconstruction projects, they are advocating for the addition of bike and pedestrian paths under the bridges being upgraded. It certainly makes sense to include these elements now as work is about to begin. It is more cost effective and would further open the banks of the Charles River to joggers, pedestrians and bike riders.
Campaign against Gun Violence
Members of the group Campaign against Gun Violence spent some time with me this week, talking about their efforts to build support for comprehensive gun control in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I am completely supportive of their efforts. There is just no good reason why Congress cannot tighten our gun laws. One issue we talked about was the implementation of universal background checks. An overwhelming majority of Americans support this, including many members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This aspect of gun control should pass quickly and easily but we shouldn’t stop there. Advocates should continue pushing for other reforms, such as the renewal of the assault weapons ban and prohibiting the sale of large capacity magazines. Unfortunately, comprehensive gun control faces uncertain prospects in Washington. This is one of those issues where the American people are far ahead of Washington. I gave the group a realistic assessment of the climate in Washington but encouraged them to keep up their efforts.
I talked with officials from the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) about the prospects of achieving comprehensive immigration reform this year. It was an impressive delegation that included representatives of Jobs for Justice, Agencia Alpha, and the Irish International Immigration Center. I told them I thought the chances are very good that Congress will deliver legislation to the President, possibly in the next few months. I don’t have to tell you that there’s been a great deal of disagreement in Washington on so many issues. When it comes to immigration reform however, it looks like progress is finally being made. Legislation has not yet been introduced and I will read it closely when the text is available. Indications are good that the bill will include a path to citizenship for immigrants of good character who have lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States for many years, and work visas to attract and retain the best and brightest. It will also likely include provisions requiring the fair treatment of unskilled workers, a goal that is important to me. I am looking forward to reviewing it and hope it is something that I can support.
East Boston YMCA
Yesterday I participated in the East Boston YMCA’s Reach out for Youth Breakfast. This annual event showcases the accomplishments of the children who participate in the YMCA’s programming. We enjoyed a children’s performance and heard from older students, who talked about what the YMCA means to them and where they plan to attend college. We also learned more about the range of programming available at the YMCA. It is always a pleasure to spend some time with the staff, volunteers and young people who contribute to the YMCA experience.
I also spent some time in Milton yesterday, celebrating the opening of Work Inc.’s new facility. Work Inc. is the largest employer of persons with disabilities in the region, providing job training and placement to hundreds of individuals. Work Inc. also operates residential facilities and offers assisted living services, family support and vocational training. The new Milton facility is a beautiful, state of the art residential building and a terrific example of the good work we can do as a society. I am very pleased that the federal government, through funding provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is participating in this program. However, I do fear that as sequestration cuts deeper and deeper into the federal budget, HUD’s ability to be an active member in this area is going to be dramatically decreased.
Allston Village Main Streets
Last week I was honored to participate in the Allston Village Main Streets’ annual meeting in Allston. The Main Streets program has been championed by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino throughout his tenure. Local Main Streets programs help to improve business districts through storefront improvement projects, beautification programs and other initiatives. Main Streets is largely funded with federal money and is one of the many programs being cut under sequestration. The improvements possible through the Main Streets program have a direct impact on the economy through improvements to local businesses and business districts.
The Allston Village Main Streets program has helped local business owners obtain grants, established a neighborhood farmer’s market and is responsible for the “Welcome to Allston” mural. I had the opportunity to talk with many of the local business people who give the Allston neighborhood its vibrancy. The annual meeting is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the local businesses and volunteers. I appreciated the invitation.
Whittier Street Health Center
I recently joined staff from the Whittier Street Health Center to highlight the great work that they do in the community. We talked about the services offered and the range of programming that patients can access. We also talked about how sequestration is impacting services that the community health center delivers. One area of concern is the Women, Infants and Children’s Program (WIC) which is available to qualified pregnant and nursing women, and their small children. Nationwide, WIC is losing $83 million in funding for just this fiscal year. As you know, sequestration is designed to hit every year for the next nine fiscal years. Cuts to WIC, and all other federal programs, will hurt more and more people every year. This is just one of the many federal programs that won’t have the resources to support current need.
Family and Medical Leave Act
I was very pleased to join Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi recently at a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees who have benefitted from FMLA spoke about how the law helped them and their families. Under FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick loved one or a new baby. It can also be used if the employee is ill and in need of extended time away from the office. It has given millions of workers peace of mind that they can take care of themselves and their families without having to worry about losing their job or health insurance.
On the anniversary of this landmark law, we highlighted the benefits it has afforded so many Americans and the desire to expand the law so that it applies to more workers. For examples, workers employed at a company with fewer than 50 workers are not covered under the law and the definition of a family under FMLA does not include siblings or domestic partners. As we celebrate the benefits of FMLA, let’s have the conversation about how we can improve it.
What’s up Next Week
The next votes in the House are scheduled for Tuesday April 9th.