The Stimulus Bill And Government Services

State and local governments are using money from the stimulus bill to keep services running, as they fight to deal with massive budget shortfalls of their own.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

So we've heard about roads and energy projects. The stimulus bill also throws a lifeline to state and local governments allowing them to keep funding a wide range of social services.

MARTIN KASTE: This is Martin Kaste waiting for the 71 bus to downtown Seattle. Transit systems are struggling around the country. Many of them have been considering cutting back on their routes.

But for the time being these buses are still running normally in most places thanks to the eight billion dollars for transit in the stimulus package. It's feeding transit systems extra money for maintenance and new equipment. The general manager for the system here in Seattle, Kevin Desmond, told me the stimulus money came in the nick of time. It added about $50 million to the system's bottom line. It's still in the hole but not quite as deep.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUS ANNOUNCEMENT)

KASTE: Other government services are also feeling the budget crunch. One of the most critical is healthcare for the poor and uninsured.

Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible).

KASTE: That healthcare is often provided by private non-profit clinics. Here in downtown Seattle it's the Pike Market Medical Clinic. Britt Anderson is the medical director.

BRITT ANDERSON: We absolutely had more walk-ins, people who have lost their jobs and because of that lost their employer-related health insurance.

KASTE: But just when clinics like these need help the most, cash strapped states are cutting their support. The state of Washington, for example, may cut its support by millions of dollars this year. And yet Pike Market Medical Clinic is hiring.

ANDERSON: I was just interviewing a physician applicant for a clinic.

KASTE: The clinic is planning to bring on two new doctors and support staff. The money to pay for them comes from the stimulus package. Joe Sparacio director of development here says the money arrived in less than a month.

JOE SPARACIO: So far it's working beautifully. The turnaround was very fast. All the community health centers were given latitude to figure out what was needed in their clinics to make something work well.

KASTE: While some of the stimulus money is moving quickly into nimble little non-profits like these clinics, a far bigger but slower moving chunk of the stimulus package is heading toward local governments themselves. Cities and counties are in line to receive billions of dollars but unlike green energy and construction, government is not likely to enjoy a growth spurt because of this money. That's because government deficits are so big right now the most the stimulus money can do is dull the pain. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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