Local Politics

Biden visits N.C. to talk stimulus

Posted April 1, 2009 5:34 a.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2009 10:28 p.m. EDT

— Vice President Joe Biden visited Duplin and Wayne counties Wednesday to demonstrate how the federal economic stimulus package is benefiting rural America.

"The (stimulus) is touching every corner of America, from Main Streets to cul-de-sacs to county roads," Biden said in a visit to the Pleasant Grove Volunteer Fire Station in Pikeville, which will receive about $100,000 in stimulus money to build a larger firehouse to serve the community better.

"This is about more than just recovery its about making sure we've built up a firm foundation," he said.

The new firehouse will put people to work in Pikeville, generating some economic momentum for Wayne County, he said.

"We have to be here 24/7 whether there is a good economy or a bad economy," Pleasant Grove Fire Chief Wesley Wooten said.

Biden, who is overseeing implementation of the $787 billion stimulus program, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced that the government has started disbursing the first wave of $10 billion in guaranteed housing loans under the stimulus, including $322 million for North Carolina.

"The funds released today will immediately create job opportunities and make the dream of home ownership a reality for thousands of people in rural America," Vilsack said.

Stimulus money will initially provide 15,000 rural families with $1.76 billion in loan guarantees for home financing, officials said, creating or saving about 7,500 jobs. The stimulus has earmarked $7 billion for rural housing support, plus an extra $3 billion for high-need areas, and officials estimated that 42,500 jobs would be created or saved once all of the money has been disbursed.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden and Vilsack visited Goshen Medical Center in Faison, which will receive $635,876 in stimulus money.

Officials said the money would allow the clinic to hire two more physicians, two more nurses and three administrative staffers. The extra staff will help the clinic care for an extra 4,800 patients, including 1,500 who have no health insurance, officials said.

Goshen Medical Center served more than 45,000 patients last year, including a third who lived in poverty and 67 percent who either had no insurance or were covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

"All of you are creating a better reality for the people of eastern North Carolina," Biden told clinic workers and others. "It's essential that small towns, rural towns be healthy and growing."

Health clinics, which treat more than 16 million people nationwide, will provide a model for delivering care accurately and efficiently that the rest of the nation can copy, Biden said. Most of the patients have a personal relationship with a clinic physician, he said, which leads to better health outcomes.

"These centers are ... on the front lines of rebuilding a health care system most of us think is broken," he said.

The money for the Faison clinic is part of nearly $8.6 million that will be distributed to 27 clinics statewide. Officials said investing in the clinics should help stabilize rural communities, especially with large numbers of people being laid off and finding themselves without health insurance.

"Ensuring that people have access to care gives them the opportunity to be healthy as they look for employment, and it helps their children be able to receive the care they need to be successful in school," said Benjamin Money, chief executive of the North Carolina Community Health Center Association.

Biden also noted that tax cuts in the stimulus package took effect Wednesday. Individuals making less than $75,000 a year should see an extra $10 to $15 in take-home pay, while married couples making less than $150,000 should see up to $20.


WRAL reporter Mike Charbonneau Twittered from the vice presidential press pool.  Follow Mike to get an idea of his day.