Monday, June 8, 2009

U.S. to ramp up recovery projects: Biden

U.S. to ramp up recovery projects: Biden
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will speed up the pace of new federally funded construction projects over the next several months, Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday after a report showing what he called an encouraging drop in the number of U.S. jobs lost in May.
"As much progress as we've already made, we still have a long, long way to go on the road to recovery. That's why on Monday, the president and I will be announcing our plans to ramp up Recovery Act implementation over the summer," Biden said, referring to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill Congress passed earlier this year.
Meanwhile, contractors complained in a separate conference call with reporters that "Buy American" provisions of the recovery legislation were slowing down work.
To meet the requirement that iron, steel and other manufactured goods used in the projects are made in the United States, contractors have to go through a time-consuming certification or waiver process, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors of America.
"I've been hearing that some of the water and wastewater projects in particular have faced a potential slowdown," Simonson said.
Many products covered by the Buy American mandate "aren't even made in America any more. That's what's sad about the situation," said Don Laskey, president of Laskey-Clifton Corp., a construction services company based in Oregon.
Obama, who has been traveling in the Middle East and Europe this week, tapped Biden in February to oversee implementation of the massive package of public works funds, tax cuts and aid to states.
The vice president held a conference call with four governors, five mayors and two county executives on Thursday to discuss implementing the stimulus plan.
Biden told reporters a Labor Department report on Friday showing U.S. employers cut 345,000 jobs, the fewest since September and far fewer than the 500,000 job cuts analysts had forecast, was a sign the stimulus package was already paying off.
"Construction unemployment, for example, is down 59,000 jobs in May, cutting in half the average of 125,000 jobs lost each month over the first four months of this year," he said.
But the 345,000 overall job losses in May was still a "tough" overall number for the workers, families and communities involved, Biden said. The U.S. unemployment rate also rose to 9.4 percent in May, the highest level in almost 26 years, from 8.9 percent in April.
"Let me be very clear: a lower job rate loss is not our goal. ... We will not be satisfied until we're adding jobs on a monthly basis," Biden said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Patricia Zengerle and Todd Eastham)

Source: Reuters

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