Image: Vice President Joe Biden
Gerry Broome  /  AP
Vice President Joe Biden makes comments during a visit to the Pikeville Pleasant Grove Volunteer Fire Department in Pikeville, N.C., Wednesday, April 1.
updated 4/1/2009 8:21:33 PM ET 2009-04-02T00:21:33

About $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money was released Wednesday to help strengthen rural communities by supporting loan guarantees and loosening credit for small-town home buyers, Vice President Joe Biden said.

Biden joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a daylong tour of eastern North Carolina in the White House's latest effort to highlight the $787 billion federal stimulus package President Barack Obama signed earlier this year.

Biden, whom Obama chose to oversee the enactment of the recovery program, said it will help rural communities not only survive the recession but thrive when the economy improves.

The newly released aid, part of the $10.4 billion that the stimulus package directs to rural housing projects, is expected to help about 15,000 families nationwide with loan guarantees and other home-buying needs in rural areas, the vice president said.

Billions for health centers
The stimulus plan also includes about $2 billion for community health centers, and approximately $500 million already has been sent to clinics nationwide. North Carolina's 27 community health clinics, which provide low- or no-cost health care to uninsured patients, will receive $8.6 million.

During a tour of Goshen Medical Center in Faison, Biden said $635,000 from the package will help the community health care clinic hire two physicians and two nurses to help it serve 5,000 more patients annually. About 41,000 people are seen each year at the clinic's 20 sites in five counties.

"All of you are getting a better reality for the people in this neighborhood," Biden said after announcing the grant in the center's waiting room. "Helping small towns like yours is essential for our nation's well-being, as well as it is to help big cities like Charlotte."

Biden and Vilsack later visited a volunteer fire department in Pikeville that will receive a $50,000 grant and $1 million loan to replace an aging station that is too small for its ladder trucks.

Boosting communities
Vilsack said helping community health centers like Goshen helps boost farming communities and create jobs.

"It also provides an opportunity for this community to market itself as a place where economic development can take place," Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, said. "You have a health care facility and you have quality health care."

North Carolina's unemployment rate hit 10.7 percent last month, the highest rate on record and the fourth highest in the nation.

Before leaving the state, Biden made an unscheduled visit to a fitness center on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. He shook hands and visited with airmen who were going through mandatory physical training, and spoke with children attending an after-school program for military families.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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