White House Rural Council Blog

  • Cabinet Officials Continue to Tour Rural America

    The Rural Tour is continuing this week, as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood head to Wisconsin today to talk about economic development.  As you may remember, Secretary Vilsack is leading the Rural Tour to travel to rural communities, listen to residents and get their thoughts on recovery.  The aim is to come up with the best solutions for community challenges, and let residents know how the federal government can assist them.
    On Saturday, Secretary Vilsack will be joined by Energy Secretary Stephen Chu in Virginia.  They will discuss carbon sequestration and weatherization as part of the President’s plan to create green jobs and focus on clean energy.  The Recovery Act is allocating $4.8 billion to install insulation, fix heating and cooling systems and other repairs, to help make homes more energy-efficient.  These funds will weatherize 1 million homes, which will help lower utility bills for struggling families, and provide construction jobs.  
    On Monday, the tour continues in Louisiana, where Secretary Vilsack will be joined by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss rural health.  Health and Human Services has been awarding Recovery Act Capital Improvement Program (CIP) grants to rural health centers across America to repair and renovation facilities.
    Head over to the Rural Tour blog where you can read stories from the tour, and post your thoughts.




    Update: At the event in Wisconsin today, Secretary Vilsack and Secretary LaHood highlighted the importance of investing in both physical infrastructure, like roads and bridges, as well as expanding broadband infrastructure in rural areas.  They also discussed Recovery Act efforts underway in Wisconsin, where $375 million is available for transportation projects. The Recovery Act provides $34 million for new clean-fuel buses, vans and other equipment to improve mobility for those living in rural areas. You can read more about the event, as well as Recovery Act projects in Wisconsin, here.

     

  • Strengthening Rural Communities: USDA Kicks Off Rural Tour

    Cross-posted from the Department of Agriculture's new Rural Tour Blog.

    The President announced yesterday that I will be leading the Administration's rural tour, which will be visiting rural communities across the country over the coming weeks and months. At each event I will try to provide information about how the USDA and the Obama Administration are affecting the lives of rural Americans.

    And just as importantly, I want to listen to the thoughts, concerns and stories about each community’s vision for its future. We will collect ideas about how the USDA could be better serving these communities.

    To help people across the country follow our progress on the Rural Tour, we are launching a new Rural Tour Web site to chronicle the sights, stories and activities of all the communities we visit over the course of the tour. The site will include a blog, videos and photos, RSS feeds, and other interactive tools so that folks across the country can participate by sharing stories and providing feedback about how the efforts of the USDA and the Obama Administration are making a difference in strengthening America’s rural communities. For those that want to follow the tour, we will be twittering live from our Rural Tour events and also sharing news and information along the way.

    We hope to see you at one of our stops or hear from you on our Web site!

    Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

    Ed. Addition: White House photos of Vice President Biden kicking off the Rural Tour.  He was joined today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper in annoucning the availability of $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to un-served and underserved communities across America.

    Vice President Biden kicks off the rural tour
    (Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act event on broadband investments in Erie, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, July 1, 2009.  The Vice President announced the availability of $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to un-served and underserved communities across America. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.)
     
    Vice President Biden kicks off the rural tour
    (Vice President Joe Biden answers a question from the audience at an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act event on broadband investments in Erie, Pennsylvania, Wednesday, July 1, 2009.  The Vice President announced the availability of $4 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loans and grants to help bring broadband service to un-served and underserved communities across America. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann.)

  • Live-Blog: Regional Forum on Health Reform, Des Moines

    Rebecca Adelman of the Department of Health and Human Services gives us a play-by-play on the third of five White House Regional Forums on Health Reform, watch it streamed livefrom Des Moines, Iowa at HealthReform.gov.

    1:27: Governor Culver thanks the audience for their spirited participation and encourages people to continue the discussion by visiting www.healthreform.gov. He also thanks President Obama for his commitment to health reform. He said, on every front, the President and his team have been extremely responsive.

    1:23: Nancy-Ann DeParle closes the event promising to brief her colleagues in the White House on the suggestions and concerns brought up in the forum today. She urged participants to visit www.healthreform.gov to submit more suggestions, and said "I have a lot to be optimistic about as I go back to the White house." She says she heard frustration from small business, farmers, providers that premiums are out of reach. She also says she heard the desire of clinicians to be at the table, to break down the barriers that exist to providing care, and she heard intelligent advocates from all different angles today. Finally, she expressed hope that everyone will continue to provide input as we work to lower costs and cover more Americans.
     

    1:18: Senator Harkin makes his closing remarks and talks about how members of Congress are working to make health reform happen this year. He said they are setting deadlines, and hope to have a bill on the floor in late June to debate it in July. He said his goal, and the President is pushing very hard on this, is to get this done in Congress before the August recess, and to have a bill to the President in September or October. "We are not going to kick the ball down the field," he said. "This is going to happen this year."

    1:10: A gentleman with a "Livestrong" t-shirt wraps up the discussion talking about cancer. He asks for a show of hands of how many participants have been touched by cancer in their own families or personally, and nearly 100 percent of those in the room raised their hands. He said we need to continue to keep this very important issue part of the national discussion about health care. 

    1:02: Responding to the question proposed by Governor Rounds about rural health, a participant brought up the importance of long-term care providers in rural communities. This participant said he came from a rural area, and many people there just want to stay in their homes and communities. He said if we pay greater attention to the importance of long-term care providers, and if we invest in them, people in rural communities will visit hospitals less frequently and fewer citizens will need to live in expensive nursing homes.

    12:55: Governor Rounds takes a few minutes to speak about the challenge of attracting doctors and nurses to serve in rural communities. He said the demand for medical professionals in rural areas is so great that each provider is stretched thin, making it even more difficult to maintain a workforce of doctors and nurses. He asked the participants for suggestions on how to attract medical professionals to rural areas, and how to support them once they establish a practice. The Governor said we need a plan to bring good medical services to rural Americans. 
     

    12:41: A participant named Tracey brought up the cost of treating chronic diseases. She suggested that the health system reform include a focus on primary and secondary prevention. She said it is crucially important to think about how to keep the well healthy, to identify the at-risk individuals, and to help the chronically ill manage their conditions to keep the costs for treating these illnesses down.

    12:30: Governor Culver reads a question from Audrey Wiedemeier, a resident of Iowa City who submitted her question online at www.healthreform.gov. She asked, "What is being done to address the fact that many low income communities don’t have access to affordable fresh healthy food?" Governor Culver and Senator Harkin discuss at length what prevention methods we could employ that would be accessible to Americans of all income brackets. Senator Harkin argues in particular that we need to rethink what food options kids have in schools to start prevention early in life . 
     

    12:20: A chiropractor brings up the issue of electronic medical records. He says the adoption of that technology could save $77 billion annually. Now that $19.5 billion has been put forth in the Recovery Act for Health Information technology, we must think about how to make that transition. He urges that an important question in the health reform effort is how can we use technology to drive best practices and efficiency.  

    12:10: After Darlyne Neff addresses the group, Governor Culver turns the microphone over to the participants in the audience. A small businessman from Iowa speaks first, and stresses the particular difficulties that small businesses face as they strive to insure their employees when health care costs are skyrocketing. A woman who was recently laid off from her job said she is not sure how she will get insurance, but hopes her former employer will be able to provider her with health insurance with the help of money from the Recovery Act.  Later, a man named Bruce from Iowa brought up the fact that people between the ages of 50 and 64 are among the fastest growing group of uninsured Americans. Nancy-Ann DeParle said it is an issue the President is very aware of, and that solutions are being discussed.

    11:55: Darlyne Neff, from Iowa City, Iowa addressed the assembled group after Nancy-Ann DeParle. Neff is a 75-year-old retired teacher living in a life-care residential community. She taught kindergarten, grade school, and speech at the junior high and community college level. She said if she could go back to teaching now she would stress with her students the importance of listening to their bodies and would try to impress upon them the importance of health and wellness. Darlyne was one of 30,000 Americans who participated in health care reform community discussions over the holidays. She said she has survived operations for breast cancer and a brain tumor, and when she heard that the President’s health care team was seeking input from Americans on how to reform the health care system, she thought, "this is something I really need to do." 
     
    11:45: White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle addressed and thanked the participants next – she especially singled out the clinicians she met in the audience, who are on the front lines of this health care reform effort. She spoke about the first forum on health reform that brought together Democrats, Republicans, insurance executives, providers and everyday Americans at the White House to begin the discussion. These regional forums, she said, are a continuation of that discussion.

    11:40: South Dakota Governor Rounds addressed the group next. He said that in South Dakota, the pressing concern is how to provide the best possible care in small, rural communities. 9 percent of South Dakotans are uninsured. Governor Rounds said, "We can do better…and we must not leave out rural areas."

    11:34: Senator Harkin just addressed the group – he stressed that we urgently need to change the health care system. The Senator said, "the good news is, we have a President who gets it." He urged the incorporation of prevention measures in to the health system, so that we can transform our system from a sick-care system to a health care system.

    11:25: Governor Culver welcomes the group and thanks President Obama for his commitment to tackling the "national challenge" that is health care reform. He says he hopes the discussion today can provide some useful input for the President and his health care team (since the Transition, that team has been exceptional in listening carefully and turning the input they get into serious points and data to inform policy-making). Two Iowa lawmakers - Congressman Leonard Boswell and Senator Tom Harkin, are next up to speak.
     

    11:15: Governor Culver kicks off the forum with a video message from President Obama. The President thanks the group for participating and says he looks forward to hearing about the concerns and ideas raised at the forum today. For background, the regional forums were designed to bring everyone with a stake in the health reform debate together, not just in Washington but across the country where people deal with the realities of health care every day, not just the policy analysis and politics of it. Forums in Dearborn, Michigan and Burlington, Vermont were held over the last two weeks, and two more health reform discussions in Greensboro, North Carolina and Los Angeles, California are coming up.

    11:05: The third Regional White House Forum on Health Reform just began in Des Moines, Iowa. Today’s event is coming to you live from the Polk County Convention Center (which was also home to the Iowa Caucuses in 2008) Thomas Newton, the Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health just began his opening remarks to the forum, welcoming the participants. It will be moderated by Governor Chet Culver of Iowa and Governor Mike Rounds of South Dakota, with Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office on Health Reform, representing the White House.

  • Recovery In Action: AR, CA, FL, HI, KY, LA, MI, NC, OR, WA, PA, VA

    We’ll start with another inspirational moment, call it the "spirit of the Recovery Act" – Mrs. Obama at YouthBuild AmeriCorps Green Homebuilding Service Day, speaking to young people working hard to help alleviate poverty and build a green future. From the transcript of her remarks on the National Mall in DC, where the enthusiasm on all sides jumps off the page:

    The work you've done here is quite impressive, and the evolution of your work to include green building, something that we're talking more and more about as a nation, energy-saving practices, and environmental awareness, it demonstrates how YouthBuild has endured as a leading non-profit organization, keeping up with the times, making sure that the training and education that you get is current.

    However, for me, it's your core principle that I am so impressed with, of providing opportunities for amazing young people -- amazing young people -- (applause) -- giving folks a second, and third, and fourth chance, particularly low-income youth.  Sometimes we overlook them, we think that they can't be, they can't do.  And it's places like YouthBuild that help you to find yourselves and to be reborn in so many ways, and to help rebuild communities all across this country, but to also complete high school and to graduate, and to do some really special things.  (Applause.)

    And now for a trip around the country.

    Arkansan [Arkansas News, 3/16/09]:

    Stimulus funds to aid state adoptions, foster care… The federal agency said increasing the federal matching rate for federal foster care and adoption assistance programs is intended to provide fiscal relief to states and help allow them to maintain core operations and undertake projects that will put Americans to work during the worst economic crisis in decades.

    California [KSBW-TV, 3/16/09]:

    The state of California will use federal economic stimulus money to put at-risk young adults into green jobs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Monday. After meeting with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger announced the launch of California Green Corps. "Green jobs are exactly what our economy and environment need right now -- and the California Green Corps targets that need while helping at-risk young adults realize a brighter future," Schwarzenegger said.

    Florida [Tampa Bay Business Journal, 3/16/09]:

    Stimulus boosts Bay area electronic health records plan… Funding included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for electronic health records is expected to lead to 132 new jobs in the Tampa Bay area. The new jobs will be for people who would work alongside physicians as trainers and support staff. They will help doctors convert from writing paper prescriptions to using electronic prescribing, according to a release from PaperFree Tampa Bay, a new public/private partnership. The effort is a first step toward implementing connected electronic health records to improve patient safety and cut costs, the release said.

    Hawaii [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 3/17/09]:

    State officials are hoping that a big new portion of the federal stimulus package will generate more than 3,000 jobs in local construction for transportation projects. Gov. Linda Lingle announced yesterday that the state was applying for $248.2 million in federal stimulus money… Brennon Morioka, state transportation director, said "we tried to be diverse" when asked how they selected projects for the stimulus money. "We tried to look at jobs for all the trades," Morioka said.

    Kentucky [Louisville Courier-Journal, 3/17/09]:

    Louisville's second federal stimulus boost in two weeks will give the city nearly $15 million to create hiking and biking trails, resurface 70 miles of streets, and build and repair sidewalks throughout the county. Mayor Jerry Abramson said yesterday that the projects will create 1,300 jobs… Smaller cities -- Jeffersontown, Middletown, Pewee Valley and St. Matthews -- will receive a total of more than $3 million from the stimulus program. Last week, the Transit Authority of River City announced that it will get $17.7 million in stimulus money to buy 10 hybrid buses and build an environmentally friendly maintenance annex… "Will it help a lot? Oh, heavens yes," [Public Works Director Ted] Pullen said. "This is three years' worth of normal funding, so it's a good shot."

    Louisiana [Times Picayune, 3/16/09]:

    Louisiana is expected to get $122.3 million in federal economic recovery money to improve the energy efficiency of the homes, government buildings and public transportation over the next three years and to jump start renewable energy projects for electricity generation.  The funds should create scores of new jobs for tradesmen willing to learn green building practices. It will also help moderate-income households around the state improve the energy-efficiency of their homes and lower their utility bills… "What's the word? Unprecedented," said Charlette Minor, program administrator for the energy, home and neighborhood stabilization program at the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, which will administer $50.6 million of the money. "For us as an agency to be able to reach so many families who need that assistance to get their energy costs reduced is incredible." 

    Michigan [Detroit Free Press, 3/17/09]:

    Stimulus to Create Up To 23,000 Construction Jobs in Mich… Under the spending plan, Michigan is expected to receive about $850 million for projects designed to fix or improve its roads, highways and bridges. The timing couldn't be better. Thanks to the severe downturn in the state's construction industry, there are more than enough workers to fill the 20,000 to 23,000 jobs expected to be created.

    North Carolina [Salisbury Post, 3/17/09]:

    The Salisbury Housing Authority will use most of $1.2 million in federal stimulus money to bring central air-conditioning and new heating to three of its public housing developments.  "It really is a godsend," Layton Woodcock, executive director of the housing authority, said of money coming from the recently passed American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. "We didn't know how long it would take for all of our apartments to get central air."  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is distributing stimulus money to local housing authorities based on a complicated formula tied to capital funding, Woodcock said.

    Oregon & Washington [OPB, 3/16/09]:

    Millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds are now available in Oregon and Washington for public lands projects.  The money is expected to create hundreds of jobs.  The U.S. Forest Service will start awarding $10 million in contracts this week for hazardous fuel reduction projects in Oregon. That work will go to private companies already under contract with the Forest Service and is expected to employ about a hundred workers. "It’s the kind of work we’ve been doing for many years.  Reducing fuel in the fire prone areas, thinning trees out," says Tom Knappenberger, a spokesman for the Forest Service.  "In some cases, it’s mechanical.  In other cases, it’s prescribed burns.  All the normal tools we use to reduce the fuels in places that are likely to burn and would cause threats to resources."

    Pennsylvania [WTAE-TV, 3/16/09]:

    Highway and bridge projects financed by $1 billion in federal stimulus money are expected to create thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania, according to Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler. A list of about 240 projects was released at a news conference in Harrisburg on Monday afternoon and posted on www.recovery.pa.gov, the state's Web site for stimulus projects… Biehler estimated that the road projects will directly and indirectly create 30,000 jobs.

    Virginia [Lynchberg News & Advance, 3/17/09]:

    Gladys Elementary to stay open, in large part to stimulus money… Campbell County Schools officials said they will not close Gladys Elementary School and likely will not lay off personnel, due in large part to the federal stimulus plan. "The budget you have tonight does not have any closings in it," said Robert Johnson, assistant superintendent for administration. At a school board meeting last month officials discussed a handful of possible cuts to make up for a budget shortfall, one of which was the closure of the 208-student Gladys school.