Conventional wisdom is that American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) didn’t do much. That’s wrong. ARRA did much good, especially in some very practical, low-tech activities in public health and other areas.

One of its less-noticed contributions was made within the domain of safety-net care. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius just announced that the number of participants in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) has nearly tripled. More than 10,000 NHSC members – doctors, nurses, dentists, and others – provide basic health services to an estimated 10.5 million Americans, almost triple the number served in 2008. (h/t Alice Chen)

The stimulus package expanded NHSC, a sound, cost-effective program that assists needy Americans while strengthening the primary care workforce. For example, NHSC’s loan repayment program provides an initial, tax-free award of up to $60‚000 in return for two years of service in an underserved community. People can pay off more of their health professional student loans if they continue in these services. Many young providers who participate in NHSC programs go on to spend their careers caring for needy patients after they complete their service obligations.

Did the deployment of several thousand health providers to needy areas end the recession? No. Did these efforts help many, many people? Yes.

Was this $300 million (I believe about 0.04 percent of ARRA’s overall expenditures) well-spent? Absolutely.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.