As global leaders, the burdens of the world rest upon the shoulders of all US citizens whether or not we can readily affect change. While we face the challenges of a faltering economy and the legacy of unresponsive governance, clearly exemplified in the Iraq debacle and the lack of attention to environmental issues until recently, any missteps, which hurt Americans, will cause devastation across the globe. Meanwhile, the international community expects America and other industrialized nations to contribute heavily to efforts aimed at solving world issues with great expense to a new generation that is facing fewer and fewer financial opportunities. The challenge to solve the myriad of social and economic issues facing the world today is greater than ever, and so, the social investments, which we make with the limited resources and time we have left, must provide high yields that affect a broad range of those issues.
With the cost of living sharply on the rise and the loss of financial security for many Americans, the number of people in need continues to increase while charities struggle to maintain services due to weakening stocks of resources as well as the inability of donors to meet demand. Moreover, every time the government intervenes, the debt is shifted to the people and later generations with the hope that the economy will improve because our government, like the majority of Americans, has no savings. On the other hand, there continues to be support from communities while the government is also in a helping phase, so this is the time to find social investments that will alleviate the poor and rebuild local economies without over burdening future generations.
Northwestern Pennsylvania is a region of America that was hit hard from the decline in manufacturing by massive outsourcing while sprawl drives the need for increased consumption as leaders try to rebuild local economies. As local communities slowly rebuild with broader economic failures in the Nation’s markets taxing the residents and the local economies, talented and well-educated individuals migrate out of the area to find greater opportunity. Meanwhile, the “snow belt” runs through the middle of the region with the local climate allowing for some of the greatest seasonal temperature swings in the Nation. As such, energy prices are a heavy burden as powerful winter storms gain energy from warming oceans while longer periods of warmer temperatures during the winter take away the insulating value of snow leaving an overall greater need for heating energy.
From years of conversations with local residents on economic worries, heating and transportation costs have become the greatest concerns. In the wake of rising energy costs, I am reminded of a woman working as a janitor at my school who explained her natural gas bill was almost three hundred dollars a month during the winter season. Individuals of the low income brackets often live in low cost housing to save money as their budgets have little room for necessities. In cities, such as Meadville, Pennsylvania, rent control helps keep housing costs down, but leads to landlords who cannot afford to properly maintain quality housing. Moreover, poorly maintained buildings lead to high utility bills and wasted resources, thus, increases in energy prices decimate a limited budget and lead to greater housing costs for lower quality housing.
In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth provides low income households with energy assistance through programs, such as the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, or LIHEP, while private groups, such as Citizen’s Oil created in 1979 by Joseph P. Kennedy II in partnership with CITGO Oil Heat Program, provide relief as well. Meanwhile, government inititated programs, such as Energy Star, look at way of decreasing energy usage for all US citizens by educating people on energy consumption and energy efficient products. In addition, twenty-five percent of LIHEP’s budget provides low income households with the opportunity to reduce energy consumption through Weatherization programs. Through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), Pennsylvania’s Weatherization Assistance Program provided nearly 10,000 low income households with assistance in 2006 according to the US Department of Energy’s website. Moreover, it is charitable investments, such as weatherization, that are necessary to not only reduce the burden on low income households but to reduce demand and stimulate local economies.
On the other hand, there are several weaknesses to these programs as well. According to the DOE’s own assertions, the Weatherization Assistance Program in 2006 did not provide assistance for households with children while only thirty percent of the funding was granted to the elderly and the disabled, so those most in need of the assistance failed to receive it. Meanwhile, the majority of funds allotted from these programs does not and cannot target all low income class households. Overall, these programs fall short as investments for the community because, they require a continual infusion of capital by State governments to maintain their economic and environmental impact; thus, these programs do help individuals, but they provide very limited returns for the community. More importantly, because these programs target a large consumer base, i.e. the populations of a State, the funds are mostly ineffective as an economic tool.
Raising private funds in the form of a not-for-profit trust would allow a community to build an invested pool of money yielding returns that can be used to alleviate the need for high utility bills. Properly insulating a home, as well as employing other weatherization techniques, will drastically reduce an individual’s heating bills in the winter and cooling bills in the summer. Moreover, a targeted annual infusion of money into a local community’s economy, such as Meadville, would help build and support the construction industry as well as increase property values and decrease the carbon footprint of the community. Meanwhile, those living in the households affected by a private program would benefit from reduced utility bills, a healthier lifestyle, and an improved attitude from better housing. As the community’s housing improves over the course of a few years, the application of grants can be expanded to other communities.
By using private funds for a project of this kind, grants can be applied to buildings, which need repaired, without regard to the economic status of the owner while funds can be more readily target a single community versus an entire State as government must provide equal protection. Low cost rentals could receive monies for improvements; this would make improving the homes of low income class individuals plausible for the owners while housing for those outside of State and Federal eligibility requirements could also benefit. Because improvements would raise property values, rental owners should be required to pay maybe ten percent of the weatherization costs and have to own the property for four or five years after weatherization with a one hundred percent penalty for selling the property early. The downside of this idea is contributors would have to provide a noticeably large amount of funds for endowment to make a significant difference while not all buildings in a community are structurally sound enough to make improvements viable. On the other hand, it may be possible to offer contributors carbon credits to help raise money for the fund while reducing their carbon footprint.
Moreover, this type of social investment would be beneficial to the Meadville area while other communities would not benefit from this investment strategy. Recently, a local man by the name of John Kanzius discovered radio-wave radiation can be used to treat cancer while his team of researchers also uncovered the process purifies salt water by igniting it, thus, the process is useful for communities, which need renewable water supplies. Meanwhile, the process also allows some of the energy consumed in the technique to be reclaimed. For communities near the world’s largest freshwater lakes, this advancement has little benefit, however, States, such as California, Georgia, and Florida should view this breakthrough as an investment opportunity to address their residents’ needs.
As our Nation looks to the future, it must wisely invest its resources and funds into projects that can help address the needs of Americans and the world community. By engaging in social investments, our society can improve and sustain the American lifestyle while broadly affecting change in a multitude of areas around the world. Every community has their own special needs and available resources, therefore, viable social investments, which will be needed for the future, differ drastically from one community to the next. Moreover, it is proper social investments that will alleviate the needs of the people and improve the quality of life for all people around the world.