Economic Stimulus Sparks Hopes for Jobs and Recovery


When President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law Tuesday, Feb. 17, he put into motion a mammoth effort to invest in the US economy and create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years. That estimate is based on an analysis of the stimulus bill produced by the president's Council of Economic Advisors.

Upon signing the bill, President Obama said, 'The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ... is the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history. It is the product of broad consultations ... from business leaders, unions, and public interest groups, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, Democrats and Republicans, mayors as well as governors. It is a rare thing in Washington for people with such different viewpoints to come together and support the same bill.'

However, the task of repairing the US economy has not ended with passage of this bill, Obama added. The task is a Herculean one with many different sides, he suggested. 'We will need to stabilize, repair, and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses. We will need to end a culture where we ignore problems until they become full-blown crises, instead of recognizing that the only way to build a thriving economy is to set and enforce firm rules of the road. We must stem the spread of foreclosures and falling home values for all Americans, and do everything we can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes.'

Obama also refused to rule out the possibility that a second stimulus package may be needed in the future. The president also emphasized that economic recovery will also depend on fixing the credit crunch, stabilizing the financial markets, and finding a solution to the housing crisis.

Upon signing the bill, the White House released new data on how many jobs will be saved or created under the plan, broken down by state and by congressional district. In addition, the White House estimates were categorized into four key sectors focused on in the stimulus package: infrastructure, health care, energy and education.

According to the information provided, the bill will invest about $150 billion in infrastructure projects from repairing and building roads, dams and water systems to building or repairing mass transit systems, expanding broadband access, and constructing affordable housing.

This portion of the plan had labor movement leaders describing the package as 'historic' and a 'leap forward,' as Laborers' Union President Terrence O'Sullivan noted in a press statement last week.

In the area of health care, the economic stimulus package sets aside about $87 billion to help states shore up their Medicaid coverage for the record numbers of newly unemployed workers seeking state aid for health insurance. In addition, the funds will help some unemployed workers keep their existing insurance by providing aid to pay COBRA payments.

An additional $12 billion investment will modernize health care by developing and implementing information technologies for the medical field. Other health care infrastructure such as community health centers, the National Institutes of Health, and the like will also see a boost in funding.

New investments to modernize the country's energy grid and to improve the federal government's use of energy efficiently are a part of the package. The White House analysis of the stimulus package revealed that jobs will be created with investments in simple things like energy efficient upgrades for public buildings and weatherization programs.

Environmentalists added a chorus of praise for the energy portion of the stimulus. In a press statement after the congressional compromise version of the bill emerged late last week, Wesley Warren, director of programs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, 'Congress really got it right with this economic recovery package that will deliver jobs and green infrastructure to America. We need to put America on a path to a clean-energy economy, and Congress has taken a big step forward in heeding this call.'

Gillian Caldwell of the 1Sky campaign described the energy components of the stimulus package as 'bold' and as providing 'the stepping stones to solving the climate crisis.'

The president's recovery package contains 'the largest down payment on repowering America that this country has ever experienced,' added Cathy Zoi of Repower America, a clean, renewable energy sources advocacy group.

The most significant way the economic recovery package will boost education is through the state stabilization fund. About $53.6 billion has been set aside to help states balance their budgets and avoid laying off state employees, especially education professionals. Without intervention, states across the country are now eyeing about 600,000 layoffs of teachers, school staff, counselors, and related education employees. The president's stimulus package should help states avoid most of those layoffs.

In addition, the stimulus package provides new funding for early childhood education, special education, college tuition assistance, and teacher professional development programs. Each area is expected to create jobs, improve public education and reduce the fiscal pressures on states to eliminate funding and cut jobs.

Bill Bentley, of the Children's Leadership Council, praised the provisions for health care and education in the economic stimulus bill. “By making all of our children – from birth to young adulthood – a priority,' he said, 'we secure our nation’s future. Investments in quality health care, early childhood education and other programs will bring millions of children out of poverty and go a long way toward providing real solutions to our long-term economic challenges.”