When President Barack Obama visited Indiana this week, he did so hoping to gain public support for a federal economic stimulus plan that barely passed the U.S. Senate late on Tuesday.
Obama came to Elkhart, a town with one of the highest and fastest growing unemployment rates in the country, in order to illustrate what he perceives are the immediate and tangible benefits his plan can have for struggling Hoosiers.
"We're talking about folks who've lost their livelihood and don't know what will take its place," the president said of Elkhart's unemployment rate, now topping 15 percent. "Parents who've lost their health care and lie awake nights praying the kids don't get sick. Families who've lost the home that was their corner of the American dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can't afford it.
"That's what those numbers and statistics mean," Obama continued. "That is the true measure of this economic crisis. Those are the stories I heard when I came here to Elkhart six months ago and that I have carried with me every day since."
According to the White House, Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will help businesses create jobs and help families afford their bills while also laying a foundation for future economic growth in key areas like health care, clean energy, education and a 21st century infrastructure.
Specifically, the White House says Indiana residents would see nearly 80,000 jobs created or saved, 90 percent in the private sector; tax cuts of up to $1,000 for 2,480,000 workers and their families; increased eligibility for college tax credits; increased unemployment insurance benefits; and monies dedicated to modernizing schools.
"I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect," Obama told Hoosiers on Monday. "It isn't. But it is the right size, the right scope, and has the right priorities to create jobs that will jumpstart our economy and transform it for the 21st century.
"I also can't tell you with 100 percent certainty that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope. But I can tell you with complete confidence that endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will bring only deepening disaster.
"We've had a good debate," Obama concluded. "Now it's time to act. That's why I am calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately.
"Folks here in Elkhart and across America need help right now, and they can't afford to keep on waiting for folks in Washington to get this done."
Not long after Obama left Indiana on Monday, Democrats in the Indiana Senate released a detailed "roadmap" of how they would like Gov. Mitch Daniels and their colleagues in the Indiana General Assembly to spend the federal stimulus dollars that come our way.
Senate Democrats believe that the infusion of federal stimulus funds, if coordinated with the state budget, "can free up state dollars for investment in Indiana's future through programs tailored to Hoosier needs."
According to Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Elletsville), the spending recommendations outlined by the Democrats are meant to "turn the tide on an Indiana economy that is spiraling downward, out of control."
"These proposals will help the governor with his stated objective to be out of the gate as fast as any state," Simpson added. "Putting these proposals into the budget will allow Indiana to speak with one voice and to move more quickly toward our recovery," she said. "We must be prepared to get these projects started and send these dollars straight to job creation."
"The Senate Democrats have a plan to bring about the change that Indiana needs now," Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) said. "We pledge to work with our colleagues in both chambers to refine these initiatives and maximize our use of federal stimulus dollars."
Based upon House Resolution 1, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, the proposal by Indiana Democrats of how to spend any federal stimulus funds that come from Obama's plan focused on four areas of investment: business and industry, infrastructure, employment and education. Here are some of the highlights:
1. Investing in Indiana's industries and businesses
Create "Retooling Indiana Fund" ($50 million): Help existing Indiana industries reduce production costs by providing funds for plant modernization, energy efficiencies and other capital projects.
Fully fund "Innovation Alliance" ($70 million): Invest in fundamental bioscience building blocks of university and corporate technology, developing and attracting talent and providing matching fund capital.
Increase funding for "21st Century Fund" ($75 million): Support research and innovative partnerships and to bring research to the marketplace through the building of small businesses, increase grant program.
Restore funding for "Tourism Promotion" ($10 million): To promote tourism as an important industry in Indiana, restore budget cut appropriation.
Adopt SB 499 Preference to Green Industries: Direct IEDC to give special emphasis to those businesses and manufacturers producing or using biofuels when considering incentive packages and grants.
2. Investing in Indiana's infrastructure
Adopt SB 479 Regional Transit Districts: Create Regional Transit Districts (RTD) for the purpose of planning and implementing mass transit projects.
Create "Transit Capital Investment Grant Fund" ($70 million): Create Transit Grant Fund to provide funds to RTDs for planning, design and capital investment in alternative transportation projects.
Expedite and coordinate Amtrak grants ($35 million, estimated): Direct IEDC to manage a competitive program for funds to upgrade and improve existing lines and build new lines for passenger service.
Adopt HB 1380 and HB 1620 Green Standards for Public Works Projects: Improve building standards and promote energy efficiency for all public buildings and economic development projects of the future, adopt both of these bills.
3. Investing in Indiana workers
Training for green jobs ($10 million est.): Direct Ivy Tech Community College to develop a worker training program that includes retrofitting of buildings, renewable power production, etc.
Training for workers in high growth and emerging industries ($15 million est.): Direct Ivy Tech Community College to develop a program that includes worker training in technology, life sciences and biosciences.
Increase employment services to unemployed ($10 million est.): Direct Indiana Department of Workforce Development to apply for competitive grant to improve services.
Create "Youth Conservation Corps" for summer employment ($10 million, estimated): To provide summer employment opportunities for Hoosier youth and move forward with needed public works projects, direct DNR to create a Youth Conservation Corps with HR 1 grant funds allocated for summer jobs.
4. Investing in Indiana's educational modernization
School Repair and Modernization Projects ($248 million): To reduce carbon footprint of schools and to modernize/update classrooms, labs and equipment.
School Technology Investment Projects ($16 million): Create a grant program aimed at improving access to technology for Indiana schools.
Immediate Approval of University Building Projects ($228.3 million): To create immediate jobs and much needed classroom improvements and to take advantage of very low interest rates, direct the Budget Agency to release all construction projects previously appropriated by the General Assembly.