California county's library gets $165,000 in stimulus funds

WASHINGTON -- The Agriculture Department is giving $165,000 to the Tulare County, Calif., library system in the latest chapter of the federal government's far-flung stimulus plan.

Three grants of $55,000 each announced Wednesday will enable the county to renovate rural facilities in Earlimart and Ivanhoe and install an automated book checkout machine in Cutler. The grants also illustrate anew how a politically charged, multibillion-dollar stimulus plan is trickling down to the local level.

"We probably wouldn't be able to complete these projects without the federal funding," Jeff Scott, deputy librarian for Tulare County, said Wednesday.

The library grants were part of $54 million in stimulus funding released Wednesday through the Agriculture Department Rural Development program. The rural development funds, in turn, came from a $787 billion stimulus package adopted in February by congressional Democrats on a largely party-line vote.

In the six months since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, federal agencies have been busy fielding applications, cutting checks, beginning oversight and, in some cases, guiding potential grant recipients.

Tulare County officials, for instance, had been considering the library renovation projects for several years, well before Congress began debating the stimulus package.

"They had been in the works for a while," Scott said.

Scott said library officials initially approached the Agriculture Department in search of funding to match local contributions, and only then learned that the stimulus package might be tapped. The Earlimart and Ivanhoe library projects happened to qualify for certain funding because of the high unemployment rates in each of the farming-dependent communities.

"The recovery act funds we are announcing today will help create jobs and improve services available in rural communities throughout the country," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilscak said in a statement.

Winning the three separate grants is a coup for Tulare County, as only three other of the rural development grants released Wednesday are being provided to California recipients; the others include recipients in rural Plumas and Butte counties.

So far, the federal departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development have provided stimulus package funding totaling more than $1.3 billion to at least 1,007 California projects, according to the departments. These have ranged from renovating Section 8 housing in Modesto's Parkview Christian Estates to helping the city of Fresno remove lead-based paint and Fresno County buy firefighting equipment.