PIKEVILLE, N.C. — Vice President Joe Biden brought a clear message to this tiny Eastern North Carolina town Wednesday: The federal recovery money isn't just for big banks and auto companies.
Biden and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a new wave of $10.4 billion in federal stimulus money for home loans across the country, and billions more for essential services in rural communities such as Pikeville, which is getting money for a new fire station. Biden used the outdated, current station as a backdrop. Pikeville is just north of Goldsboro in Wayne County.
"We're investing in places like this all across the country," Biden said, "to demonstrate the vital role towns like this play in the recovery."
Most of the money for the station that was announced Wednesday, however, had been secured last year under the Bush administration, according to fire department officials.
State Sen. David Rouzer, a Republican who represents Pikeville and worked in the Agriculture Department under President Bush, said he helped secure the fire department money last year out of the federal agency's regular programs.
"They're coming in and cherry picking the best projects and switching out the money, saying it's stimulus money," Rouzer said. "But it was already approved and in the pipeline. It's totally disingenuous to come down here and say this is stimulus money, when regardless of whether a stimulus bill passed, they were getting the money."
Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday disputed that version of events. They provided a copy of the application with a March 5 date showing that that's when the department applied for the money. The president of the local volunteer fire department, after speaking with officials, later said USDA may be correct.
The Obama administration is working to draw attention to money for rural communities, where gravel roads and volunteer fire departments are the norm. The moves come as irritation and anger are rising over federal money that has been streaming to Wall Street, banks and car companies.
Biden and Vilsack talked Wednesday about grants that are being parceled out for water systems, police stations, hospitals and fire stations. Earlier in the day, they visited Goshen Medical Center in Faison, where $635,000 in federal money will help hire two doctors, two nurses and three administrative workers.
Pikeville, where nearly all residents live below the poverty line, will receive $150,000 in grants and a $1 million loan toward the $1.3 million cost of the new fire station, said Fire Chief Wesley Wooten.
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