Joe Biden

Remarks by the Vice President on the Recovery Act in Pikeville, North Carolina

April 01, 2009

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, let me -- first, Chief, let me start with you. And thank you for letting me in your house.

CHIEF WOOTEN: You're welcome.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I was telling the Chief, back in the other room, that this is a place, literally, a fire station like this I got -- my career got started. Every aspect of my life has been touched by the fire service, and quite frankly, by the volunteer fire service -- all professionals.

As we say -- used to say when I was a senator, could you excuse a point of personal privilege, Chief, and to all your members -- I, literally, not only owe my career, I owe my life. I owe my physical life. I owe the life of my two sons. And I owe you a lot. When I was -- first got elected, there was an accident affecting -- killing my wife and daughter, and my two sons were badly injured. It was my volunteer fire department -- the Jaws of Life saved my two sons. When I was diagnosed as having a couple cranial aneurysms where they didn't give me a real great chance of living, and they wanted to get me to a hospital in the snow storm at Walter Reed, from Delaware. They asked how I wanted to get there. And I said, literally, "Call my volunteer fire department." And they got me there.

When, a couple of years ago, lightning struck my home in the morning when I was down doing "Meet The Press" in Wilmington, Delaware, and the seven local departments -- not only one, seven of my buddies showed up. And extensive damage. They got my wife out of the house and everything worked fine. So I really owe you guys, I genuinely do. It's heart-felt, it's real. And I don't think most people understand just how much you do, how much you contribute.

You're the same guys and women who jump off the back of this apparatus after a fire in time to make sure to get to the Little League field so you can line the Little League field for the game. You're the same folks that, you know -- so I know you know it, but this is community. For me, the definition of community -- and my state is a rural state; little ol' Delaware, everybody thinks, is a northeastern state. It's rural. Our largest town is about 150,000 people, and the next largest town is around 30,000 people. And we only have two paid fire services in our entire state.

And so this is the place, at least where I come from, where you get married, you get buried. This is the place, the physical spot in which all this stuff happens. This is kind of -- in Georgetown, Delaware -- which is not my home, and places like -- that, this is the country club. This serves as the social center, as well as protecting the safety and property of everyone.

So I just want you to know that when I had a chance, when I asked Tom -- Governor Vilsack, now our Secretary of Agriculture has been a friend for a long time. He actually, quite frankly, knows more about what we're able to do in this Recovery Act, particularly in concert with the Department of Agriculture and other agencies you work with, and anybody in our government. And so I went to Tom, what, two weeks ago? I said, "Tom, look, I think it's important we go out and we let people know how this money is being put to work for them, what we're actually doing. Where should I go? Where should I go?"

And we were about 25 -- 45 minutes from here. We went to a community health center first. And then we said, I want to go to a fire station, because that's the best emblem of what it is we're doing to try to help communities fight through this recession, and at the same time, rebuild something, Governor, that's here to last.

And Mr. Mayor, I'd be remiss if I didn't say thank you for the passport to get into town, we appreciate it very, very much. I told the Governor -- I told the Mayor as I got of the car, a lovely lady next door to the fire station here waved a pamphlet to me and said she had to talk to me. So I walked over and took out a pen -- I thought she wanted an autograph. She said, "No, no, honey, I've signed it for you." (Laughter.) She did, swear to God. She signed it for me because -- it's a long story, but it was about her husband.

Anyway, so this is like home, man, this is coming home. So I want to thank you and all the good citizens of Pikeville. And Chief, you and your men and women here who, you know, as the Governor was pointing out back stage, you know, when you build this new fire station it all says the effect of, you know, people rate -- insurance companies rate how much they're going to charge for your insurance on your home. Insurance goes down when you do good things like this. People's payments to their -- on their mortgage to insure their home, goes down.

I don't think people know, so -- but I'm not going to get into -- if I get off on volunteer fire service I'll spend the whole day here. But, look, that old expression, "All men are created equal" -- and then a few became firemen. You know, so you're not all created equal, you all are the best.

Look, I don't have to tell folks in North Carolina, in this section of North Carolina about community. I don't have to look any further than down the road at Carthage, where they just went through a tragedy -- all the families and the victims in the nursing home shooting. But the damage could have been a whole lot worse but not for a local guy named Justin Garner -- a 25 year old policeman -- 25 year old policeman who displayed courage and character that we all need to get through these tough times. And he showed us how important it is that the men and women who make up small towns serve their communities with dignity and valor, as well as help define our national identity.

And so Tom wasn't exaggerating when he was saying that the President and I think this is more than just doing something about helping this recession. It's about going to the places where the roots of where our values come from. And it's -- folks, this is community. And as I said, there's no better place to demonstrate it than right here in a fire hall in a small town.

And so folks, we understand that the health of small towns like Pikeville is as essential to the nation's well-being as the health of big towns, like Charlotte. We understand that as we write a new chapter in our history, the small towns of America and the fire fighters and teachers and farmers and police officers will have to be some of the most prominent of its authors as we rewrite this new contract we're trying to work out.

And we understand that this administration -- you should understand we believe will not have done our job if after the recovery occurs -- and it will occur, we will recover; we will recover -- but that's not sufficient for us to recover in terms of our GDP and the growth of our economy. We'll only be successful is when we recover if, in fact, the living standards of middle-class Americans have raised as we've moved out of this. It's not sufficient just to recover. We had a recovery in the housing bubble -- but guess what? Middle class folks got left behind. Productivity increased 20 percent, yet the average middle class family lost $2,000 over that eight year period -- instead of being part of it.

So this is about more than just recovery. It's about making sure that we build a firm foundation for the 21st century where the middle class is raised up and those aspiring to the middle class. And, you know, I don't think we have to look any further than this fire house to understand what we mean by serving families and creating opportunities. With $100,000 in recovery funds, this department is going to be able to build a new four-bay fire house, which may be able to house as many as eight vehicles, I'm told.

And we know that the fire house serves an important purpose, but we also know that it's more than that. It's an emblem of what, in fact, a community is about. You all are committed to giving your community everything that they need -- those folks in this fire service. And the communities appreciate it. You keep our families safe and you display proudly the sacrifices and selflessness that make this community and thousands like it across the country strong.

We don't view the money for the fire house as just spending to help us get out of the troubles we're in now -- oh, it will create jobs, it will put people to work, it will stimulate the economy in this small community, it will inject funds into the community. We think that it is also an investment in the future. And this is only one example how we're investing in all of you. It's investing in Pikeville.

We're doing much more, as the Governor indicated. We're investing in places like this all across the country to demonstrate the vital role these towns of your size play in this recovery. All told, we're going to deliver more than $20 billion -- $20 billion -- even in Washington, that's a lot of money -- $20 billion in loans and grants to improve economic opportunity and the quality of life in rural America; $20 billion set aside for rural America. And the money is going to go to improving things which are not high on a lot of people's lists, but will make a big difference -- like improving broadband access so the farmer can sit there and get online and know exactly what his product is being sold for not just the next county over, but across the country. And so your kids can be brought into the same kind of opportunity that kids all over the world are being brought into.

We're also going to upgrade, as the Governor pointed out, rural water and waste disposal systems. We know, Mr. Mayor, that's a big-ticket item for most small towns. It's a gigantic item in terms of cost in dollars to get it done. I don't need to tell you about it, Governor, because I'm sure you're implored with help in the state capitol for this all the time.

And we're also seeding new rural business ventures. I was, as I said, just down the road in Faison, discussing how we're investing in community health centers. And, by the way, you got one of the best people in the country managing that operation down there. And so we can continue to provide vital services so many vulnerable families need right now.

I'm also happy to announce today the United States Department of Agriculture -- really Tom should be doing this announcement -- are going to be giving $10.4 billion in recovery funds for singe-family housing, $1.76 billion being released today. Now, in the midst of this housing crisis, some of the people getting hit the hardest and the worst are people in rural America. And we're doing this because we realize credit is so tight -- there are few options that exist for low-interest loans in rural America -- even creditworthy people are having trouble going to the bank and deciding they want to borrow the money to buy a home, or to refinance their home. And today that changes.

Of the $10.4 billion, $322 million, Governor, is headed to your state -- $322 million to invest in 875 loans, four of which are just right here in Wayne County. And families, as of today, America workers are going to -- 95 percent of them, of all of those of you who have withholding held from your paycheck, everyone who is in that position is going to get -- it's not a lot of money, but it makes a difference in a lot of lives -- $65 a month more on average in your paycheck through the tax cut we put in -- not for the wealthy, but for working people -- $65 a month more in the paycheck. In these hard times, $65 can make a difference to a lot of families that I know.

And because of that credit, I think we're going to also have the effect of stimulating the economy. All that money is going to go back in. People are going to go to the drugstore. They're going to go to the corner sandwich shop, the grocery store. People are going to get the car repaired that they've been holding off on repairing for a long time. That's the stuff that when the money goes into the economy and creates demand and people get hired; jobs are created as a consequence of that.

All in all, we recognize how important America's workers are to our recovery, and we're acting boldly as we can to make towns like Pikeville as strong as possible.

Look, folks, a lot of you know me, and I have a reputation -- and as the Governor knows -- for being pretty blunt and straightforward. Well, I'm going to level with you. To state the obvious, everybody knows these are really tough times. They're tough times in North Carolina, they're tough times in Delaware, Iowa, California -- California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation right now. We all get that.

But every single day that I get out of Washington and am able to -- which I strive to do as often as I can -- every single day I get out in communities, it seems to me that you not only witness this enduring struggle, people asking questions about themselves, as well as they are about their country, and can we get through this -- but every single day, every single day I see something new that provides hope -- that provides hope -- hope that we're not only going to survive this recession, but that the American people -- and I mean working families like all of yours -- will come out of this better off than they did before. I see it all around me, every place I go. I see it here at the Pikeville Fire -- Volunteer Fire Department. But I also see it in communities, including urban communities all across the country.

The President and I really do feel the sense of urgency. It's one thing to say, well, "tomorrow." "Tomorrow" doesn't work for somebody who can't put food on the table. "Tomorrow" doesn't work for somebody who in fact just lost their job. "Tomorrow" doesn=t work for that mother or father who has to make that longest walk up the short flight of stairs to tell his son or daughter that, "Honey, I'm sorry, we just lost the house. You can't stay here. We're not going to be able to play in the same baseball team this spring. You're not going to be able to do it." I mean, "tomorrow" -- "tomorrow" is a hundred years away for people.

And so that's why although we've been criticized, we felt so strongly that we had to be as robust as we possibly could in trying to keep unemployment from plummeting so that we create 3.5 to 4 million jobs, or save them, at the same time we begin to invest in communities to give people a little hope.

Well, guess what? I've observed that whether the people understand the detail of the Recovery Act or the detail of the budget, what they do have is they do have hope. They do have hope. And the funny thing is my job is supposed to come out and make people in our communities feel this sense of hope and optimism -- I'm the one that goes back -- I'm the one that goes back more filled with hope and optimism when I see all of you, how you face what's facing you right now and how you're ready to embrace change as long as you think there's a square deal; just let me in on the deal. Just let me in on the deal.

And so, folks, it's a real honor to be here with you. It's an honor to be here. Many of you in recent past have been dealt out of that American Dream a little bit. Everybody, think about this. You folks who are old enough to have children and young enough to maybe have your parents around. Remember the days when your mother and father would tell you when you were a kid, you can be anything you want to be, you can do anything at all in this country as long as you work hard, believe in your country, and you're honest? Well, there's not as many people today of the generation that our parents were, not raising kids, who look at their kids and say the same thing with the same conviction.

Our parents said it and meant it. My dad said it even after he lost his job. My dad really believed it. One is we got to do -- and this is part of this whole recovery -- is we build this up from the bottom up, not from the top down, is we got to make sure that there are tens of millions of parents all across the country, like our parents used to be, be able to look at their kid with confidence and just say, "Honey, it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay." That's what it's all about. Because if you can't say that, mom, we let down a generation.

And so I think we're ready. I think this is the beginning of a new deal in terms of how people are dealt into the process. I hope that's what it is. And, you know, I was saying -- I said just a few hours ago that there was a great description of a North Carolinian written by a writer who was touring North Carolina towns during the Great Depression. And he said of a typical North Carolinian facing uncertain times in the '30s, here's what he wrote, he said: "He is now less proud of the distance he has gone than aware of the distance he has to go. He knows that he's in the greatest state on Earth, and that he's as good as anybody in it. But he is by no means sure this is good enough" to get him going.

The difference between now and then -- I look in your eyes and I look in everybody else's eyes across this country -- and I do understand that in fact the pride of how far you've come is somewhat overshadowed by the distance you have to go right now. But what I don't see -- what I don't see is what this writer saw in the eyes of a "North Carolinian" he was writing about. I see the pride in your state. But I also see the absolute certitude in your mind that if given a shot there is no reason why -- no reason why -- we can't come back stronger.

And so folks, what we're all about today -- not only in building this -- priming the pump to be able to build this fire house -- and that's what it is, it's priming the pump, you all are doing a lot locally -- not only in this housing money and all the things -- some of the things I mentioned. What it really is, is about getting a new start. And so I -- this is kind of backwards, I know, but I want to thank you for giving me renewed confidence. We're going to get this done. We're going to get this done. And with the grace of God, as my grandfather used to say, and the good will of the neighbors, and the crick not rising -- (laughter) -- we got a real shot, a real shot, and it starts right here, right here in this fire hall. Right here in this fire hall.

So, folks, keep the faith, and go Tar Heels -- unless they're playing Villanova. (Laughter.) I got to tell you, I know it's politically incorrect to come to North Carolina and say you're for another team. (Laughter.) If Villanova is out of it this round, no problem, I'm for North Carolina. If I had to bet, North Carolina wins, yes. But I can't bet against Villanova for a simple reason: I'll be sleeping alone. (Laughter.) My wife graduated from Villanova. So you all are important, but I like sleeping with my wife. (Laughter.) And if she found out I showed up in North Carolina and said, "Go Heels," at the expense of her Villanova Wildcats, I'd be in real trouble. (Laughter.) So good luck, unless it is Villanova. (Laughter.)

Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks by the Vice President on the Recovery Act in Pikeville, North Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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