$1 Billion Stimulus Plan Keeps Cops On Streets

Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder went to Philadelphia Tuesday to talk about the stimulus funds that cash-strapped cities are getting to help put police officers on the streets. The event was held to try to counter Republican criticism that the stimulus package didn't do enough to help small businesses.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now administration officials know the public has been carefully watching the stimulus plan the president signed earlier this year. Yesterday the vice president and attorney general announced the stimulus would help pay for a billion-dollar grant to law enforcement. The money would help cities keep police on the streets. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Philadelphia.

DON GONYEA: Vice President Biden, on stage in an ornate room in Philadelphia's city hall, said that this town would be able to add 50 officers to its police force - and more.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: This money will allow the department to increase response time, improve operation and command center, that extra minute or two, as you all know, (unintelligible) the officers know, can save a life. That's money well spent in my book. But it also is money that's going back into the economy.

GONYEA: Two rows of police officers stood behind Biden as he spoke. He said that helping police operations around the country helps to ensure stability in communities. But he also spoke more broadly, saying that the administration is dealing with what he called a great recession, one far deeper than expected.

Vice President BIDEN: Ladies and gentlemen, the Recovery Act is making the difference. Just ask these officers here. Yes, we still have a long, long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction.

GONYEA: Events like this are designed to counter Republican attacks on the stimulus, that it didn't do enough to help small businesses, that it didn't offer enough tax breaks, and that it didn't stop the loss of jobs. Last month alone, another 467,000 disappeared. Comments like this one, earlier this month, from Republican House Whip Eric Cantor continue. This is from an appearance on FOX news.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia, House Whip): I do think it is fair to say that the stimulus is a flop. The goal that was set when we passed it was unemployment wouldn't rise past eight and a half percent and what we see now is businesses just aren't hiring. Even the best projections have us losing 750,000 more jobs this year.

GONYEA: Yesterday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell answered Cantor directly.

Governor ED RENDELL (Pennsylvania): Because he's judging a program after less than four months that was intended to have an impact over 18 to 24 months.

GONYEA: By far the largest percentage of stimulus money going to states, 60 percent, is for education and job training programs and for health care. It's aimed at softening the blow for laid-off workers, helping them afford to hang onto their insurance. Another 16 percent is for transportation projects that should create lots of construction jobs, but most haven't gotten under way yet. Economist Mark Zandi:

Mr. MARK ZANDI (Chief economist, Cofounder, Moody's Economy.com): It really does take a lot of time to get these projects up and running, particularly when you don't want to do bad projects, projects that aren't going to be very helpful for the economy in the long run. So I think the administration got a little ahead of itself.

GONYEA: Zandi is with the investment assessing website Moody's Economy.com. He says that while the Obama administration did overestimate the immediate impact the stimulus would have, he adds this.

Mr. ZANDI: This is not a failure. I think it's working. In fact, the economy is going from recession to recovery. That's happening right now and it's no accident it's happening at the same time that the economic impact, or benefit from the stimulus is reaching its maximum point. So the stimulus has really helped.

GONYEA: Zandi said that whatever claims Democrats and Republicans may be making now, the real impact of the stimulus won't be known until well into next year.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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