First Allocations Arrive in Prince William County From Federal Stimulus Package

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prince William County got a first dose of federal economic stimulus money last week, and officials are readying their wish lists in hopes of more cash medicine.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) announced that he worked with Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) to secure $1.1 million in stimulus funds for the Greater Prince William Community Health Center, where Principi serves as executive director. Connolly said an additional $19.1 million in stimulus money has been designated for Prince William schools, and various infrastructure projects are expected to receive millions in the coming weeks. Nearly $530,000 in supplemental law enforcement funding was announced by Connolly's office Friday.

With the economic recession undermining county tax revenue, Prince William officials are looking for federal help for a broad range of services and improvements, including widening Route 1, police programs, and a proposed commuter ferry service between Woodbridge and the Washington Navy Yard. The county has identified $370 million in projects it could pay for with federal funds, although it's not clear whether Prince William will get anywhere near that amount.

Principi said the $1.1 million will allow the health center to expand its services as demand for affordable health care soars. The center treated 4,000 patients in 2008, three-quarters of them uninsured. This year, it's on pace to see 7,000 patients, each of whom uses the clinic 2.3 times a year on average, Principi said.

The $1.1 million "provides us with a new lease on life," he said.

"Everyone in Prince William County will benefit from us being able to deliver quality health care to the insured and the uninsured," resulting in less crowding in hospital emergency rooms, Principi said. He said the center plans to add three nurse practitioners to its staff.

But Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said he wasn't impressed, dismissing the stimulus money allocated so far as "a drop in the bucket." Residents will be shortchanged if Connolly, who entered Congress two months ago, doesn't secure at least $50 million for county schools, he said.

"Our county is the ninth wealthiest in the country and pays a lot of income tax," Stewart said. "This is going to be a test as to how much pull Gerry Connolly has inside his own party."

Stewart didn't spare Connolly criticism for the allocation to Principi's health center, either. "It looks suspicious that his friend and ally has been given $1.1 million in federal money to help pay his salary," he said.

But Connolly said Stewart "can't have it both ways." His office provided a copy of a Feb. 9 letter from Stewart thanking Connolly for working to relieve traffic congestion through stimulus funding.

"I think Mr. Stewart's time would be better spent writing my Republican colleagues and urging them to vote for a stimulus bill he now wants me to bring home the bacon from," Connolly said. The former Fairfax County chairman was the only Prince William representative to vote for the stimulus, as Reps. Frank R. Wolf, Robert J. Wittman and every other House Republican opposed it.

Principi bristled at Stewart's suggestion that the health center funding was driven in part by politics. "It's hogwash if somebody thinks there's something political about this," he said. "This country is in crisis."

County legislative affairs director Dana Fenton said his office has drafted a list with $370 million in stimulus priorities that include several transportation projects, police funding and help for neighborhoods struggling with foreclosure. Of that, roughly $240 million would be spent on road improvements. The Virginia Department of Transportation expects to receive nearly $700 million in federal stimulus money, and the county is working with the state agency to identify "shovel-ready" projects that could begin immediately.

"In terms of road projects, the sooner we can get some of them done, the better," Fenton said. "It's good for economic development, and that's what we're going to need to get out of the economic doldrums. Even in down times, we need to look at what we need to do to get the community moving again when we're in good times."

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