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Rep. Larsen touts Whidbey’s piece of the stimulus pie

Congressman Rick Larsen, right, checks the progress of the renovation of Oak Harbor High School. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Congressman Rick Larsen, right, checks the progress of the renovation of Oak Harbor High School.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen visited Oak Harbor Tuesday to discuss plans for the nearly $2 million expected to trickle down here from the massive $838 billion economic recovery package.

Larsen began his three-day tour of his district at Oak Harbor High School, with the aim of highlighting elements of the bill to local service providers.

The Oak Harbor School District will receive an estimated $1,863,000 from the package in funds for IDEA, Title I, as well as Impact Aid funding for districts serving a large number of military families.

For the visit, project manager Mitch Romero escorted Larsen and members of the Oak Harbor school board to the high school construction site, specifically the new career and technical building which is 90 percent complete.

“My first question to Mitch was, ‘How many people are employed?’” Larsen said. “Because in this economy, it’s great to see jobs.”

The U.S. economy has lost nearly 3.6 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007, half of those losses in the last three months. In January, U.S. companies slashed nearly 600,000 jobs. Larsen said the recession appears to be accelerating.

“To see this community investment is heartening. It represents long-term growth,” Larsen said of the high school’s modernization project.

Larsen voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last week, which cleared the House by a vote of 246-183. The massive package is a blend of spending, tax cuts and incentives.

Some of the provisions for Washington state include an increased buying power in food stamps by over 13 percent to help offset the rising cost of food, $60 million in recovery for ferries and an increase in unemployment benefits for jobless workers by $25 per week.

Second District schools, including those in Island County, are also eligible for resources for school modernization from the $1 billion in state stabilization funds.

Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon said the district is putting plans together for the use of the money, but has nothing concrete yet. They have considered free, all day kindergarten and extending their remedial programs.

He asked Larsen if the money provided will be renewed in two years, or if the district would need to end any programs they begin now.

“We haven’t funded federal education very well over the last eight years. We’re looking forward to what President Barack Obama puts in the budget,” he responded. “I recognize the concern and I think the administration does too.”

Larsen added that recovery dollars are supplemental and will not be able to fund programs supported by local dollars. There are restrictions on how the money must be spent and it was not designed to replace the levy which Oak Harbor voters face March 10.

“The recovery package is just about the recession and will be in place for one-and-a-half to two years. The levy is a longer time frame,” Larsen said.

Money from the economic stimulus package will in theory be paid back through warrants and stocks, which Larsen said “has caused some people heartburn.” But economists say the cost of doing nothing right now is too great.

“The way to act quickly is with a bold bill. You don’t want to put debt as your top worry. The top worry should be the acceleration of recession and how to attack that,” Larsen said.

This bill also promises to be more transparent. Americans can track the money being spent at recovery.org.

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