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A Look At Effects Of Stimulus On States


States have just filed their first reports accounting for how they've spent federal stimulus money, and we're going to hear now about projects in three states, California, Illinois and first Tennessee. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports on a new health clinic in Nashville.

(Soundbite of crying baby)

BLAKE FARMER: Nearly every seat is taken in the waiting room of this clinic on the south side of Nashville where, in Tennessee, close to $17 million have gone toward making more clinics like this one and even paying the salaries of nurses and doctors.

(Soundbite of waiting room)

FARMER: Dr. Suzette Kelly rolls her laptop cart into a square room where a five-year-old girl swings her feet off the end of an exam table. Her mother explains she's come for a flu shot. Kelly checks a few vital signs for good measure.

Unidentified Woman: Ear.

FARMER: Kelly's position is one of 23 created since Nashville's United Neighborhood Health Services took stimulus funding earlier this year. The organization runs more than a dozen clinics in schools and community centers. Kelly was hired in August after being downsized from a local pediatric practice.

Dr. SUZETTE KELLY (Physician): They were cutting back on their physician population.

FARMER: They just couldn't support it financially?

Dr. KELLY: I guess they couldn't support it financially.

FARMER: Kelly says she's thankful to have a stimulus job and there's plenty to do. The clinics have seen a nearly 15 percent bump in patients since accepting recovery money. Tennessee's share of stimulus funding is $5.6 billion. As the money trickles in, the state says it's created or saved nearly 8,000 jobs. Besides new hires, United Neighborhood Health Services plans to expand two clinics. Next week, it opens an entirely new space in the Edgehill community, within walking distance for Tina Hamilton(ph).

Ms. TINA HAMILTON: I mean you don't have to worry about any bus fare. And if you don't have any money, you can just walk up the street.

Ms. MARY BUFWACK (CEO, United Neighborhood Health Services): We're going to serve the people who live just 20 feet away from us.

FARMER: Mary Bufwack directs the nonprofit agency. She says some health stats in this neighborhood of subsidized housing were on par with third world countries.

Ms. BUFWACK: Low birth weight in this community is as high as 20 percent. So we have all of those babies, one out of five, being born that often needs extra hospitalization.

FARMER: Bufwack says it will take time for this two room brick-o-block clinic to build a sustainable patient base. Breaking even requires her to attract one insured patient for every uninsured, which is a growing challenge.

Ms. BUFWACK: We feel a lot of pressure. If these clinics don't quickly get up to maximum and really become self-sustaining at the end of two years, we don't even want to think.

FARMER: Bufwack says she's committed to making the new clinic work and keeping the additional staff, even after the stimulus money runs out.

For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

RICHARD GONZALES: This is Richard Gonzales in San Francisco.

Across California, the federal stimulus money had a big impact on the public schools and colleges. It saved or created at least 60,000 positions, most of them teaching jobs. That includes five faculty spots here at the International Studies Academy.

(Soundbite of school bell ringing)

GONZALES: This small school with less than 500 students offers intensive study of language and international relations. The students are predominantly African-American and Latino - more than half qualify for a free lunch.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER CAREY (Teacher): All right, so everyone get their reading out for Mapp v. Ohio.

GONZALES: Third year teacher Christopher Carey(ph) opens his American democracy class with a landmark Supreme Court case about unreasonable searches and seizures.

Mr. CAREY: What would you, if anything, would you think was unreasonable in the search of this woman's house? What was unreasonable?

GONZALES: San Francisco schools got about $24 million in federal stimulus money, and Carey, a 33 year old Stanford grad, former actor and paralegal is fairly typical of those who are working only because of the federal assistance.

Mr. CAREY: What I like about this job is that I get to be with kids all day. They're a great energy. I left a job as a paralegal that was, you know, I think I took a $25,000 pay cut to take this job, but it's what I wanted to do.

GONZALES: Even so, Carey says, there are days he goes home emotionally drained from helping his students navigate life outside of school, where they face broken homes, drugs, and violence - all of which, he says, makes his payoff that much richer.

Mr. CAREY: Helping a kid fill out a college application because no one at home can is just an incredibly rewarding experience. And then when those kids come back and say thanks or just come back and, you know, they don't even have to say thanks. If they're doing something cool with their life, that makes me feel great.

GONZALES: California isn't the only state where teachers' jobs were saved or created with federal stimulus money. It happened in Utah where 2,600 teaching jobs were spared, Minnesota saved about 5,900 and Michigan salvaged 14,000 school jobs. But what happens when the stimulus money dries up? Bill Jackson is president of GreatSchools, a national organization promoting parental involvement in schools.

Mr. BILL JACKSON (President, GreatSchools): The federal stimulus money was great, but the problem is we run the risk that that money lets us put off critical and difficult decisions about how we're going to fund education in California and beyond.

GONZALES: In San Francisco, officials are looking at increased class sizes, program cuts and maybe a longer school day. Teacher Christopher Carey tries to take in all in stride. After all, he says, as a young teacher, he never knows whether he'll have a job next year.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

SIEGEL: So, we've heard how some stimulus money has been used in California and before that in Tennessee. Finally, we got out on the road in Illinois, with NPR's David Shaper.

DAVID SHAPER: It's a cold blustery October day and that means we're getting close to the end of the highway construction season here in Chicago. But there are still a few stimulus projects being finished up. One of them is here on the Bishops Ford Expressway, interstate 94 through Chicago's South Side and south suburbs. And this project has kept dozens of people employed this year.

Mr. GUADALUPE ELANIS(ph) (Labor): Well, everybody thought of that, you know, everybody thought there won't be no work this year, you know.

SHAPER: Laborer Guadalupe Elanis is working for Gallagher Asphalt on this expressway resurfacing project. He says work prospects looked bleak back in January, but because of the stimulus project he's been able to provide for his family.

Mr. ELANIS: What can I say, man, it has been good year for me, you know? Some other people, it's not the same, you know? For me, I'm doing okay.

Mr. CHARLIE GALLAGHER (President, Gallagher Asphalt): The stimulus package has been certainly a job-sustaining bill for us. But it also has helped us hire a few new people as well.

SHAPER: Charlie Gallagher is the president of Gallagher Asphalt. Gallagher won bids for seven stimulus projects, putting close to 300 people on his payroll at the peak of the construction season this summer - 150 of them on this job alone. Most years, he says about half of the company's revenue comes from public projects, half from private, such as building roads for subdivisions or parking lots for new strip malls. But this year, Gallagher says that kind of private sector work dropped off to almost nothing. And he says public projects, including those funded by the stimulus now make up more than 98 percent of his company's business.

Mr. GALLAGHER: Without it, we would have been very, very severely impacted.

SHAPER: Even with the stimulus, Gallagher says he has fewer workers this year, many are working fewer hours and this construction season has been shorter than usual.

Mr. GALLAGHER: It was a shot in the arm, but it's not a sustaining shot in the arm.

SHAPER: Gallagher and many other highway contractors are now more worried about next year than they were at the start of 2009, which at the time look bleak at best. The Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association says as important as the stimulus was, it did not provide as much money for infrastructure projects as hoped. The last massive six year federal transportation's spending plan has expired with no replacement in sight. Highway construction contractors say if there is no reauthorization of that transportation built soon, many of them could be put out of business.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Blake Farmer
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.