Officials: Stimulus package should help homeowners and schools

By Garbiel Monte and Argen Duncan

As a stimulus package aimed at infusing almost $800 billion into the economy hurtles through Congress on its way to the president’s desk, eastern New Mexico residents are hopeful it boosts the economy.

Eastern New Mexico officials said the package should include money to help homeowners fight foreclosure and provide funding for school programs and construction.

The Democratic-controlled Congress and White House agreed Wednesday on a compromised $790 billion economic stimulus bill designed to create millions of jobs in a nation reeling from recession.

Douglas Stone, president of Portales National Bank, said money should go to help homeowners avoid foreclosure instead of big banks.

Stone said $50 billion is earmarked to help homeowners. He would like more spent on homeowners, since the economic troubles began with those with bigger loans than they could afford.

Before the agreement was announced, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., received a letter from 21 New Mexico superintendents urging legislators to reconsider adding federal funding for education in the package, according to Mark Nicastre, a spokesman for Ben Lujan, D-N.M. who delivered the letter to Pelosi.

The House version of the bill included $6 billion for school repair and modernization that passed in January but was stripped from the Senate’s version, which passed Tuesday.

In the end, officials said the agreement added $10 billion to a State Stabilization Fund, with the additional provision that governors may use some of the money for modernizing school buildings but not building new ones.

Clovis schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm, who signed the letter, said the money would fund construction projects for schools, after-school programs for at-risk children and special education programs.

“States really need help to fund education, and school districts and thus kids are really going to be short-changed over the next couple of years if we don’t get some help,” she said.

Melvin Nusser, Portales High School principal, said the money could go the Lindsey Steiner school project and others.

“I think it would be very favorable for New Mexico and favorable for our district if it does pass,” Nusser said.

Pelosi, Reid’s partner in negotiations over more than 24 intense hours, initially withheld her approval in a lingering disagreement over federal funding for school construction. “We had to make sure the investment in education” was in the bill, she said.

Ben McDaniel, manager of McDaniel’s Furniture store on Main Street in Clovis, said business has been flat because of the slow economy. He’s hopeful the stimulus package will boost the economy.

“I guess we’re fortunate that it isn’t worse here, you know I always kind of worry, ‘okay, when’s the bubble going to burst here?,’” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report