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Recovery Act in Action: A Window into a Change of Heart

Jared Bernstein,Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President, tells the story of a once skeptical small business owner who has seen great benefits from the Recovery Act.

Editor's Note: In case you missed them, read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

For this week's episode of Recovery Act in action, I spoke to a business owner who started out skeptical about the benefits of the Recovery Act.In fact, he was so concerned that the Act wouldn't help the economy, he worried that the Recovery Act was "mortgaging the future."

Fast forward to the present, where the Recovery Act has created a wave of new demand for the energy efficient windows his company makes.Based on that demand, his sales have picked up such that he's added 100 new workers, in occupations ranging from line workers to managers.

"He" is Alan Levin, owner and CEO of Northeast Building Products, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of energy-efficient windows.When the Recovery Act was passed last February, he figured it was another government program that was going to bypass the little guy.A small business like his would never see any of the benefits.

"I was skeptical," Alan told me when I reached him this week."These numbers people were throwing around—hundreds of billions of dollars—they're unfathomable. We see ourselves as just a little mom and pop operation and I never imagined a program like this would reach down and help the way it has."

Yet just a few months after the Act went into effect, he was getting calls for new orders generated by two different measures in the Recovery Act.

One is a grant program for cities and states to do energy-efficient retrofits of public housing.The other is a program that gives homeowners a tax credit for putting in high-efficiency windows and making other energy-saving improvements to their own homes.

That tax credit can put up to $1,500 straight into a homeowner's pocket, not to mention the savings on energy bills from the windows themselves.

The way Alan tells the story, the credit has had a dramatic impact on his industry. "It used to be the contractors wanted to know, ‘What's your cheapest window?'  Now they're asking, ‘What's the most energy efficient window at the best price?  They're looking at value in a way they never have before."

In other words, not only are these programs providing jobs for Alan's new hires and income for their families, they're "greening" the market while lowering energy bills for his customers.For middle-class families feeling squeezed, those lower bills provide some much-needed relief to their budgets.

In fact, this tax credit is still available, so it's not too late to take advantage of it yourself (check out this new tool to learn about this and other Recovery Act tax benefits).You can get up to $1,500 to make your home more energy efficient, save yourself some money by cutting down on your energy bills, and maybe even put someone back to work at a business like Alan's.

Jared Bernstein is Chief Economic Advisor to the Vice President