With a flourish, President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law on Feb. 17. But he's still giving it the hard-sell and hitting back at its critics.
This morning, Obama sang its praises in Columbus, Ohio, at a graduation ceremony for 25 police cadets are joining the force, instead of being laid off before starting their beats, with stimulus money.
With the uniformed cadets arrayed behind him on stage, Obama admonished those who argued that the stimulus was "unwise and unnecessary" to talk to the teachers, nurses, firefighters, and the Columbus cadets who still have their jobs thanks to the plan.
"This country has never responded to a crisis by sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the best," he said, citing the extended unemployment benefits, healthcare provisions, and tax credits that will show up in bigger paychecks April 1.
He also announced that $2 billion in grants for more cops, prosecutors, probation officers, crime prevention programs, and equipment are now being made available. (The White House fact sheet on the money is below.)
But the president also acknowledged that the stimulus plan alone "won't turn economy around and solve every problem." (His full remarks are below.)
His challenge was made starkly obvious by the latest dire jobs report out today.
Obama says the stimulus plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs in the next two years. But the jobs numbers show that even if that happens, the economy won't be back to even.
The unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent last month, the highest since late 1983, with the loss of another 651,000 jobs, after cuts of 655,000 in January and 681,000 jobs in December. That means that since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost 4.4 million jobs -- what Obama called an "astounding" number.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America made a similar point, saying that more than 2 million construction workers are out of work and their unemployment rate is at 21.4 percent. "The economic recovery plan is a good start but there is a lot more work to do. Even if the recovery plan meets expectations and creates 700,000 construction jobs, there will still be more than 1.3 million construction workers looking for a job," the union's general president, Terry O’Sullivan, said in a statement.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing, noting that another 168,000 manufacturing jobs were lost last month, also says that the stimulus package is not enough to turn around the economy.
"This is a grim moment for American workers," Scott Paul, its executive director, said in a statement. "Washington's priority must be to put people back to work. One time-tested, effective way of doing that is more infrastructure investment using American-made materials. The economic recovery package passed last month was a good first step, but more needs to be done."
In advance of Obama's speech at the graduation, the White House issued a statement from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on the jobs report:
“Today we learned that our economy lost another 651,000 jobs in February, bringing the unemployment rate to 8.1 percent. 4.4 million Americans have now lost their jobs since this recession began last year, and there are now nearly 3 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or more.
"This data does not just represent abstract statistics. Rather it illustrates the struggles of millions of Americans who do not know how they will raise their families, or pay their bills and mortgages. They are the central focus of this Administration’s economic policies, and why we are moving swiftly and aggressively to jumpstart job creation and grow our economy.
"As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama and I have already moved to increase unemployment insurance benefits and to extend the duration of unemployment insurance. In addition, I am announcing today that the Labor Department is making available more than 3 and a half billion dollars to states for education, training and reemployment services.
"We will continue to do whatever is necessary to break the destructive cycle of job loss in this country and put Americans back to work. That includes our plans to re-start lending for consumers and small businesses, help responsible homeowners pay their mortgages and re-finance their homes, and address the long-term economic challenges we face—including the high cost of health care, our dependence on oil, and the state of our schools.
"From the day this Administration began, we knew that solving the economic crisis we were presented with would not be easy and would not happen overnight. But the President and I believe that this nation has both the resources and the will to meet this challenge and emerge stronger and more prosperous than before.”
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney issued a statement praising the stimulus package, but asserted that to rebuild a "robust real economy, with good jobs and a strong middle class, also demands attention to health care, education, pensions, climate change and other issues."
"America's steepest drop in employment in over 30 years shows just how long the road to economic recovery will be," Sweeney said. "The pain of February's widespread job losses was felt across virtually every employment sector -- with manufacturing and construction especially hard hit. Unemployment among African American men hit 14.9 percent last month – almost double the level a year ago.
"The economy has spiraled into a vicious downward cycle: Workers are losing their jobs and can't maintain their mortgage payments. Housing foreclosures are exacerbating the downward slide in housing prices and tightening credit. Frozen credit markets are forcing firms to lay off more workers. Our country has a tough path ahead as we work to create jobs, restore the middle class and ensure that our economy works for everyone, once again."
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please, everybody have a seat. Thank you so much.
Well, what a wonderful reception. Thank you very much. I want to begin by thanking Mayor Coleman, Director Brown, and the entire Columbus police force for inviting me to be a part of this ceremony. It is a great honor and a privilege to stand with the men and women of this police academy's 114th graduating class. (Applause.) You have studied hard, you have trained tirelessly, and there is no longer any doubt that you will be employed as officers of the law when you leave here today. (Applause.)
I also want to just very quickly acknowledge one of the finest governors in the country, who's been just dealing with all kinds of stuff and doing it with grace and aplomb and never breaks a sweat, but is working hard on behalf of his constituency -- Ted Strickland. (Applause.) The Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. (Applause.)
I came out here with a number of members of the Ohio congressional delegation, but I want to make a special note of my former colleague when I was in the Senate who is just as passionate about working people as anybody in the country, Sherrod Brown. Give Sherrod a big round of applause. (Applause.)
This city of Columbus needs the courage and the commitment of this graduating class to keep it safe, to make sure that people have the protection that they need. This economy needs your employment to keep it running. Just this morning we learned that we lost another 651,000 jobs throughout the country in the month of February alone, which brings the total number of jobs lost in this recession to an astounding 4.4 million.
Four point four million jobs. I don't need to tell the people of this state what statistics like this mean, because so many of you have been watching jobs disappear long before this recession hit. And I don't need to tell this graduating class what it's like to know that your job might be next, because up until a few weeks ago, that is precisely the future that this class faced -– a future that millions of Americans still face right now.
Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America. (Applause.) That is why I signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. (Applause.)
Now there were those -- there were those who argued that our recovery plan was unwise and unnecessary. They opposed the very notion that government has a role in ending the cycle of job loss at the heart of this recession. There are those who believe that all we can do is repeat the very same policies that led us here in the first place.
But I also know that this country has never responded to a crisis by sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the best. I know that throughout our history, we have met every great challenge with bold action and big ideas. That's what's fueled a shared and lasting prosperity. And I know that at this defining moment for America we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to do it once again. We have a responsibility to act, and that's what I intend to do as President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
So for those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan. I ask them to talk to the nurses who are still able to care for our sick, and the firefighters and first responders who will still be able to keep our communities safe. I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan. (Applause.) I look at these young men and women, I look into their eyes and I see their badges today and I know we did the right thing.
These jobs and the jobs of so many other police officers and teachers and firefighters all across Ohio will now be saved because of this recovery plan -– a plan that will also create jobs in every corner of this state. Last week, we announced that Ohio would receive $128 million that will put people to work renovating and rebuilding affordable housing. (Applause.) On Tuesday -- on Tuesday I announced that we'd be sending another $935 million to Ohio that will create jobs rebuilding our roads, our bridges, and our highways. (Applause.) And yesterday, Vice President Biden announced $180 million for this state that will go towards expanding mass transit and buying fuel-efficient buses -– money that will be putting people to work, getting people to work. (Applause.)
Altogether, this recovery plan will save and create over three and a half million American jobs over the next two years.
Because of this plan, those who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage. Because of this plan, 95 percent of working Americans will receive a tax break that you will see in your paychecks starting on April 1st. (Applause.)
And because of this plan, stories like the one we're celebrating here in Columbus will soon take place all across this nation.
Today I'm pleased to announce that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are making available $2 billion in Justice Assistance Grants from the recovery act. (Applause.) That's funding that will help communities throughout America keep their neighborhoods safer with more cops, more prosecutors, more probation officers; more radios and equipment; more help for crime victims and more crime prevention programs for youth. Cities and states can apply for these funds right away, and as soon as those applications are received, the Justice Department will start getting the money out the door within 15 days.
In Savannah, Georgia, the police department would use this funding to hire more crime and intelligence analysts and put more cops on the beat protecting our schools. In Long Beach, California, it will be able to help fund 17,000 hours of overtime for law enforcement officials who are needed in high-crime areas. West Haven, Connecticut will be able to restore crime prevention programs that were cut, even though they improved the quality of life in the city's most troubled neighborhoods. And the state of Iowa will be able to rehire drug enforcement officers and restart drug prevention programs that have been critical in fighting the crime and violence that plagues too many cities and too many towns.
So the list goes on and on. From Maine to San Francisco, from Colorado to New Jersey, these grants will put Americans to work doing the work necessary to keep America safe. They'll be directed only towards worthy programs that have been carefully planned and proven to work -- and Vice President Biden and I will be holding every state and community accountable for the tax dollars they spend.
Now, by itself, this recovery plan won't turn our economy around or solve every problem. In the flight over here with the Ohio delegation, I talked to them about the fact that we've got big challenges ahead of us. We inherited a big mess. This police force still faces budget challenges down the road, there are still workers in Columbus who are losing their jobs, and there is still so much work to be done throughout Ohio to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity.
That's the work we must continue in the days and months ahead. That's why my administration is also moving quickly and aggressively to restart lending for families and businesses; to help responsible homeowners pay their mortgages and refinance their homes; to address the major economic challenges of our time: the cost of health care, our dependence on foreign oil, the state of our schools.
All of this takes time and it will take patience. It will entail great effort and cooperation. But most of all, it will require a renewed sense of responsibility from every American -– a responsibility to ourselves and one another; a responsibility that's already been demonstrated by the men and women who are sitting behind me here today.
The job you signed up for is not easy. It can mean long shifts and late nights. It demands focus, and determination, and great bravery in the face of unknown dangers. When you run into that building or chase down that suspect, you will be risking your own life in order to protect the lives of men and women you have never met, and some that you may never know.
But you knew all that when you joined the academy. You knew the risks involved, you knew the sacrifices required, and yet you stood up and said, "I'll take that risk. I'll make that sacrifice. I will do that job."
And that, Columbus, is the very essence of responsibility. That's the spirit we need in this country right now, no matter what our role is or what our profession that we've chosen. It's a spirit that asks us to look beyond our own individual ambitions to the wider obligations we have as the good citizens of a great nation; a spirit that calls on us to say, "I'll make that sacrifice. I'll do that job."
If we can summon that spirit once more; if we're willing to look out for one another and listen to one another; if we are willing to pull together and do our part; if we can show even a fraction of the courage and selflessness that these cadets have already demonstrated, then I have no doubt that we will emerge from this crisis stronger than before and keep this nation's dream alive for future generations.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.
The fact sheet on public safety grants:
Today President Barack Obama announced that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are making available $2 billion Recovery Act 2009 funding allocations for state and local law enforcement and criminal justice assistance, available through the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program.
This funding will be used to help communities keep their neighborhoods safer with more cops, prosecutors, and probation officers; more radios and equipment; more help for crime victims and more crime prevention programs for youth.
JAG Program funds can be used for a variety of efforts such as hiring law enforcement officers; supporting drug and gang task forces; funding crime prevention and domestic violence programs; and supporting courts, corrections, treatment, and justice information sharing initiatives.
The procedure for allocating JAG grants is based on a formula of population and violent crime statistics, in combination with a minimum allocation to ensure that each state and territory receives an appropriate share of funding.
· 60 % of the allocation is awarded directly to a state and 40% is set aside for units of local government.
· Funding will be used by states and more than 5,000 local communities to enhance their ability to protect communities and combat crime.
The Recovery Act includes more than $4 billion overall to assist state, local and tribal law enforcement and for other criminal justice activities that help to prevent crime and improve the criminal justice system in the United States while supporting the creation of jobs and much needed resources for states and local communities.
To see the breakdown of JAG allocations for states, territories, and units of local government, visit http://www.recovery.gov/.
Because of these funds, 25 police recruits in Columbus, Ohio are graduating today, after they learned in January that instead of being sworn-in as officers they would be let go. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman announced last week that he would use money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pay the recruits’ salaries so they could keep their jobs.
Here are other examples of how the money will be used:
In Providence, RI, Police Chief Dean Esserman intends to use the Recovery Act funding for operational overtime, focusing on the violence reduction efforts he has ongoing. His priorities are gun violence reduction and gang violence prevention – and the extra funding to provide for preventive patrol will be so useful.
Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis says his number one priority for use of the Byrne JAG funding in the Recovery Act is to retain cops who he would otherwise have to fire because of severe municipal funding cutbacks. His second priority is hiring of civilians in the police department to free up sworn officers.
The New Jersey State Police is looking to hire crime analysts for its all-crimes all-hazards Fusion Center. This will allow the State Police to keep sworn officers on the street and to develop tactical approaches for fighting gun and drug trafficking, as well as gang violence and terrorism threats. The analysts are the backbone of the Fusion Center and their work supports the troopers, as well as 500 local chiefs and sheriffs.
A priority for the San Jose Police Department with its Byrne JAG funds would like to upgrade its Records Management System to improve allocation of patrol officer and investigative resources. San Jose’s upgraded records management system will help the department report, map, analyze, and predict crime patterns, and will serve as a force multiplier to solve crime in real time.
White Plains, NY intends to use its Recovery Act funds to ensure that its Youth Violence Reduction Program can continue. This program has been instrumental in reducing juvenile crime in the city; officer overtime has been critical to the initiative’s success. The city also would use some of the funding to hire civilian crime analysts and dispatchers for the Police Department, allowing more cops to be out on the street. These civilian hires would save the city money, since they cost less than would sworn officers.
The City of Bowling Green, KY would like to use its Byrne JAG funds to upgrade and enhance its radio telecommunications infrastructure. The current radio system is over 14 years old and is in much need of upgrades.
Cincinnati, Ohio - Hamilton County intends to use its JAG to maintain a successful violence reduction program, based on an evidence-based model. Additional funds will support overtime for Cincinnati Police officers who provide intense oversight for the individuals in the program.
The State of Maine is considering using these funds to restore seven drug agents and two drug prosecutors as part of their statewide multi-jurisdictional task force. Additionally, these funds would assist in establishing an integrated criminal justice system that links the courts, corrections, criminal history records, dispatchers, law enforcement, and all prosecutors statewide.
Iowa has begun an accelerated, competitive grant application process consistent with priorities set forth in Iowa's Drug Control Strategy. The State of Iowa has recently had deep local and state budget cuts. Much of the JAG Recovery Act funding is anticipated to save criminal justice jobs such as drug enforcement officers and offender treatment professionals, as well as community drug and crime prevention jobs.
Savannah, Georgia Police Department would use the Byrne JAG funds for crime and intelligence analysts. The stimulus funding would also be targeted for juvenile prevention and intervention efforts in Savannah. The department intends to bridge the school resource and community gaps by adding police officers specifically to work with the schools and communities. The Recovery Act JAG funding will also be critical to continue training, equipping, staffing and deploying violent crime task forces.
Long Beach, California Police Department - The Recovery Act funding will be instrumental in funding 17,000 hours of front-line law enforcement overtime allowing the police department to increase police presence in high crime areas. JAG stimulus funding will allow the Long Beach Police Department to procure and install 330 new mobile radios in their police vehicles to further regional communications interoperability.
Over the past several years, many crime prevention programs in West Haven, Connecticut were eliminated and significantly curtailed or reduced because of budget cuts. As a result of these actions, West Haven, Connecticut saw a steady decline in the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Today, because of the Recovery Act funding, West Haven, Connecticut will be able to re-establish these programs to protect their citizens. West Haven will now be able to establish gang and gun task forces to focus on these and other serious crimes that their neighborhoods are facing. They also will be able to assign additional resource officers to their public schools and provide additional crime prevention and quality of life officers to work with the community.
Story County, Iowa would use Byrne JAG funds to bring their two Drug Task Force Deputies salaries back up to where they were originally, as well as to bring back the drug prosecutor. They also would utilize funds for buy money and equipment for which they have been seriously lacking since funding had been so greatly reduced.
San Francisco Police Department would use the Byrne JAG funds for violence reduction saturation patrols in the highest crime areas, partnering with the District Attorney, adult and juvenile probation, state parole, and community courts. The focus would be on the drugs, guns, and gangs that fuel the violence in the city. Funds also would be used for targeted law enforcement efforts to include foot patrols in specific areas of the city and expanding officers in low-income housing developments. The San Francisco PD will also be able to put more of a concentrated effort on juvenile justice prevention and intervention – specifically focused on after school activities.
Chief Rick Myers of Colorado Springs would fund civilian positions that have been cut. These non sworn positions provide a wide degree of flexibility to the agency at a reduced cost to taxpayers. He also is looking at using funds to purchase technology to provide service at a lower cost.
In suburban West Jordan, Utah, one of the fastest growing cities in Utah, the Police Department will use Byrne JAG Funds to install 39 in-car digital camera systems in police cruisers, as well as purchase 70 mobile communication systems. These advances in technology will not only fund as many as 15 local jobs, but will also assist local patrol officers’ work by providing them quick and reliable access to information from any location city-wide, enabling faster response times to criminal activity.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office would use Byrne JAG funding to purchase equipment and supplies for their SWAT and Training Units, as well as for the Law Enforcement Augmentation Equipment Program for explosives, supplies, and tools for their Explosives Ordnance Disposal Unit. Fresno County also would use funds to purchase equipment to improve the use of their Explosive Ordnance Disposal and SWAT robot, which is used in tactical situations that require the use of the robot in diverse environmental conditions. They also would fund salaries for narcotics officers, as well as purchase and equip special operation vehicles.
Butler County, Pennsylvania Sheriff’s Office would use Byrne JAG funds for construction of a secure entrance for prison transports into the courthouse, to hire additional correctional staff, and to expand warrants services.
The State of Wisconsin intends to use much of the Recovery Act funds to create jobs in the private non-profit community service sector, as well as in community- based treatment services. The state plans to add jobs in the Department of Corrections to coordinate and manage community-based corrections activities. (Note: The State of Wisconsin’s plans are not yet finalized, but the intention is to make a substantial investment in their “Justice Reinvestment Initiative.”)
Among a number of other activities, the State of Tennessee is considering to improve its Judicial District Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. Specifically, this funding will assist with expanding the number of people for Drug Interdiction Units as well as other task force sections. Additionally, this funding would be instrumental in expanding existing reentry programs in the state and hire additional people to work in these programs.
The State of New York is considering investing in juvenile reentry initiatives for after care programs and reentry services, such as family reunification programs, job placement of offenders re-entering the community, and residential stabilization through building of housing. Funds also would be used to restore prosecution and defense program reductions that have occurred in the last year. Juvenile justice programs for prevention and school-based programs also could be restored with jobs and services retained. Local crime labs could develop crime analysis/intelligence teams with the District Attorney, local law enforcement, and research centers.
In North Richland Hills, TX, a suburb community of Fort Worth, Byrne JAG would be used to construct a Regional Public Safety Training Facility that would provide access to much needed training for area police and fire departments. In addition, monies would be used to fund new positions, including a Family Resource Coordinator who would provide outreach to at-risk families to help prevent abuse and neglect by providing immediate short-term interventions and counseling.
The Burlington, VT, Police Department is excited about using the Byrne JAG funding to create a number of new positions, to include a “Volunteer in Service Policing” Coordinator. This new civilian position would free up sworn law enforcement officers to return to regular duties, and it would expand efforts to utilize volunteers to provide a wide array of services to the community. In addition, Burlington intends to create two Social Service Practitioner jobs to specialize in mental health and substance abuse interventions during initial emergency calls. These new positions will allow the town of Burlington, Vermont, to provide robust and continual support to members of the community who are in a regular crisis.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.