Monday, March 09, 2009

Stimulus money going to national forests; Vilsack touts help for rural areas in call with reporters

He runs the Department of Agriculture, but with no White House Office of Rural Affairs to match the newly created one for urban affairs, Tom Vilsack appears to serve as secretary of agriculture and rural affairs (an expanded name that Hillary Clinton endorsed when she was running for president). Vilsack held a conference call with reporters today to tout the $28 billion that his agency is getting under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the economic stimulus bill.

Among the first expenditures will be Forest Service projects for fire prevention, roads, bridges, buildings and recreation facilities. In Eastern Kentucky, "The Daniel Boone National Forest has received some of the first Forest Service money from the federal stimulus package to clear trails and roads that still are blocked by fallen timber," reports Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Not only national forests are involved; work will also be done at the Land Between the Lakes, a federally owned recreation area in Western Kentucky that the Forest Service administers.

Vilsack said in the conference call that the Forest Service has released $100 million of the $1.15 billion in stimulus money it is receiving. He said one aim of the spending is to reduce the 21 percent unemployment rate among young people, but the individual impacts appear to be small. Early estimates for the Daniel Boone clean up are "six 'person-year' jobs, which will be the equivalent of six people working for one year," Mead reports. "The Land Between the Lakes projects include $2 million to work on public buildings and $475,000 to clear roads and access to agricultural fields. Plumbers, carpenters, laborers, sawyers and equipment operators will be hired." (Read more)

Vilsack pointed to other ways the stimulus should benefit rural Americans; $173 million ($145 million immediately) will go out in loans to farmers, and programs for housing and rural utilities will be boosted. For a recording of his conference call, click here. For a news release about the call, click here.

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