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Obama pushes stimulus plan in Elkhart

POSTED AT 12:06 AM ON Feb. 10, 2009 

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When President Barack Obama visited Elkhart as a candidate six months ago, the city’s unemployment rate was 9.3 percent. When he returned on Monday, the rate had soared to 15.3 percent – among the nation’s highest.

Elkhart, which was once home to the booming RV industry, now represents the decline of U.S. manufacturing.

Obama was met with overwhelming applause and cheers as he entered the Concord High School gymnasium.

In his first trip outside Washington, D.C. since his inauguration, Obama appealed for public support of the proposed $827 billion economic stimulus bill that is currently being debated in the U.S. Senate.

Failure to pass the bill could lead to an even bigger downturn, Obama said.

“The situation we face could not be more serious,” Obama said. “We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression.”

Obama said without government intervention unemployment could reach double digits nationwide. The economy could hit a low point that may not be reversible, he said.

Obama is calling the bill a “recovery and reinvestment” plan. He said he plans to create more jobs and invest in education and infrastructure.

“At its core is a very simple idea,” Obama said. “To put Americans back to work, doing the work America needs to be done.”

Obama said his plan will create 3 to 4 million jobs over the next two years in public works projects like roads and bridges, school building improvements and alternative energy.

The plan will also provide for extended unemployment insurance and health care for workers that have lost their jobs in the recession.  

Tax cuts for lower- and middle-class families are also in the bill, which he said are essential to helping the economy recover. Families could receive up to $1,000, which Obama said he wants families to use to buy necessities.

“If you don’t have money, you can’t spend it, and if you don’t spend it, our economy will continue to decline,” he said.  

Obama wants to prioritize cutting energy costs by making American homes more energy-efficient and by giving tax breaks to companies that develop alternative energy sources such as solar panels and windmills. He said that the country should invest in “green” energy.

“I want to help make Indiana an energy-producing state, not just an energy-consuming state,” Obama said.

While Obama said the bill was not perfect, he added “doing nothing was not an option.”

As the president spoke, the faces in the packed gymnasium varied. Former factory workers, students, military veterans and immigrants all looked on as the president promoted his plan.

Malinda Schutz, 17, and Shawndray Gates, 16, were allowed to take the day off from Elkhart Memorial High School to see the president speak.

The recession has been difficult on both of their families. Schutz lost her after-school job, and both Schutz’s and Gate’s fathers were laid off from their factory jobs this past year.

Both of their families are now living on a tight budget, but are faring better than some other area residents. Gates said she noticed many of her peers can no longer even afford to buy lunch.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of kids don’t eat lunch or they are always asking for money,” Gates said. “Even if they do have it, they’re trying to save it.”

Jesus Fernandez left Mexico ten years ago to work in a factory that makes windows for RVs, but has recently had his work schedule reduced to two days a week.

He has had a difficult time supporting his wife and two daughters.  

“I go door to door asking for work,” Fernandez said.

He has done lawn work and cleared driveways for extra cash.

“I’ll do anything,” he said.

 

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