Stimulus money goes to community health centers

More jobs and better health care.

President Barack Obama has been vague about details of his healthcare reform efforts, but he provided a hint on Monday of one direction he could take — community health centers.

As he announced the nominations of his two top health executives, Obama highlighted the allocation of $155 million to 126 community health centers as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

“These health centers will expand access to care by helping people in need — many with no health insurance — obtain access to comprehensive primary and preventive health care services,” Obama told a news conference.

“That helps relieve the burden on emergency rooms across the country, which have become primary care clinics for too many who lack coverage — often at taxpayer expense.”

The Health and Human Services Department said the money would create 5,500 new jobs and help provide health care to an estimated 750,000 low-income Americans.

Gary Pickens, chief research officer for the Healthcare business of Thomson Reuters, a division of Thomson Reuters Corp, agreed the centers relieve overburdened hospitals.

“Hospitals currently have overcrowded emergency departments and would probably prefer to see care given in more appropriate settings for conditions that don’t require hospitalization,” Pickens said in a telephone interview.

This addresses one of the most pressing problems facing our health care system. Emergency rooms are overcrowded, as too many Americans without health insurance rely on them for care. Community health centers can help handle many of these cases, and they provide better care as they are organized to handle primary health services as opposed to emergencies.

More money is on the way.

“Over the next two years, a total of $2 billion in Recovery Act funding will be invested in Community Health Centers to support renovations and repairs, investments in health information technology, and critically needed health care services,” HHS said in a statement.

These are the types of “investments” that contribute to the common good. It attacks the inefficiencies in the current system while improving the quality of care.


Growing excitement around green jobs

We will be hearing many stories like this one over the next several years.

When Rita Bryer sees 300-foot-tall wind turbines sprouting up from the prairie near her home in western Oklahoma, she can’t help but wonder about the view from the top, where blades the size of semi-trucks spin.

“Out here, you can see the wind turbines from 10 miles away,” she said. “Think about how far you’ll be able to see when you’re at the top.”

So, partly out of curiosity, partly because she wants to be part of something new, the 51-year-old is leaving behind a career of odd jobs and oil-field work.

She’s going back to school to become a wind turbine mechanic — one who’ll have to scale the turbines to make repairs.

Across the country, people like Bryer are looking to the renewable energy sector in hopes its “green-collar jobs” will offer them stability in this shaky economy. Some are signing up for community college or apprenticeship programs that train students to be wind turbine mechanics, solar panel installers, fuel-cell engineers or energy efficiency experts. Video Watch how the green economy is growing in Pennsylvania ยป

Government support has rallied excitement for the prospect of a green jobs corps, as President Obama’s stimulus package puts about $20 billion into greening the economy, according to the White House.

n his recent speech to Congress, Obama said the U.S. will double its supply of renewable energy in three years. To do so, he’s calling on a new class of workers to be trained in environmental fields. Green jobs training programs will get $500 million from the stimulus.

The transformation of our energy industry to greener technologies will be critical for our economic recovery along with our national security. The idea is simple – having mechanics and technicians maintaining windmills and installing solar panels here in the United States is better for our economy than having workers working on Saudi oil rigs. The energy is cleaner, more Americans are employed, and American wealth isn’t shipped overseas.

It’s stunning to me that Republicans are ceding these arguments to Democrats.


Too much stuff

Unsold stuff is piling up.

The unsold cars and trucks piling up at dealerships and assembly lines as consumers cut back and auto companies scramble for federal aid are just one sign of a major problem hurting the economy and only likely to get worse.

The only way to stop the downward spiral is to boost demand. That’s the point of the stimulus package.

The world is suddenly awash in almost everything: flat-panel televisions, bulldozers, Barbie dolls, strip malls, Burberry stores. Japan yesterday said its economy shrank at an 12.7 percent annual pace in the last three months of 2008 as global demand evaporated for Japanese cars and electronics. Business everywhere are scrambling to bring supply in line with demand.

Downsizing can be tricky, though. No one knows how much worse the economy will get, and while everyone waits for the recession to peter out, businesses are grappling with how to cut costs and survive without sabotaging their ability to grow when the economy picks up.

And there is a lot to cut.

“There is over-capacity in everything,” from “retail to manufacturing to housing,” said Richard Yamarone, chief economist at Argus Research. “If capacity is too large, you don’t need that many people employed, which is another reason we’re seeing such high job losses.”

As long as capacity far outstrips demand, businesses have little reason to expand, buy new equipment or hire workers. Even if the government funds bridge repairs and banks step up lending, many industries still have to go through massive restructuring before growth can resume. But executives say they have to tread carefully. If they put off critical investments in technology or research for too long, they could hobble their recovery and even the economy’s.


Working on the stimulus

The Washington Post reports that the Obama team is back off one of its tax cut proposals, as many Democrats have expressed concern tha the $3,000 jobs tax credit would be difficult to administer and could easily be abused.

I’m not sure this is the case, but it’s refreshing to see flexibility from the Obama team. Even more interesting was this observation in the article:

Even before assuming office, Obama is taking an unusually direct role in legislative efforts to move both bills forward, personally phoning lawmakers and dispatching senior aides to Capitol Hill on a near-daily basis. Today the president-elect will speak to Senate Democrats at their weekly luncheon, and he will soon appear before House Democrats, although a date has not been set, a senior Obama aide said.

Obama expects to meet with Republicans in both chambers, the aide added, although not until after he is inaugurated next Tuesday.

Obama is showing that he’s wlling to mix it up and get his hands dirty. He cares about the details, and he wants to be involved in the details. He expects government to perform well, and he’s setting the standard.

Obviously, this presents a stark contrast to George W. Bush. As I’ve said many times, expect a much different tone and work ethic over the next eight years.


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