2010 Stimulus Just another CUNY Graduate School of Journalism site

Introduction: State of the Stimulus

The rehabilitation of the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island is the largest project in New York City funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The city will use the $175 million to rebuild the terminal’s roadways and parking over the next three years. (Photo: David L. Lewis)
The Hobbs Ciena construction site on E. 102nd and 2nd Avenue in Spanish Harlem is the first affordable housing project in the country funded by the stimulus. The project created more than 100 union and non-union jobs. Related story.

It is $787 billion nationwide. More than $7 billion dollars to New York City. Twenty-eight federal agencies. Dozens of spending categories. Over 70,000 organizations and projects. And an optimistic effort at transparency.

That’s how President Obama’s stimulus program, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was designed to boost the national and local economy. State by state, city by city, program by program.

But with so much money passing through so many hands, it’s still tough for Americans to be sure where the money is going, and whether it is doing what it’s supposed to do.

A close examination of a handful of local programs in the five boroughs reveals that stimulus money has had a limited effect on the nation’s largest and richest city.

While it has clearly been a lifeboat for individual workers, programs and businesses, the scale and pace of spending have so far failed to create a rising tide of jobs. New York City’s unemployment rate has hovered around 10 percent for months, up from 8.5 percent when the stimulus plan passed almost 15 months ago. That trend may be changing, and so too might the ultimate measure of the stimulus. But right now, it’s hard to say it’s worked.

“It’s great that the stock market has bounced back,” Obama said in a May 13 visit to Buffalo. “But if you’re still looking for a job, it’s still a recession. If you can’t pay your bills or your mortgage, it’s still a recession. No matter what the economists say, it’s not a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives.”

* * * * *

As Americans rang in the New Year on Jan. 1, 2009, the economic future looked grim. The nation was shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month; the housing market was in free-fall. Wall Street, the beating heart of the New York City economy, was in crisis: The financial securities giant Lehman Brothers collapsed in September; there was talk of nationalizing the largest banks; Bernie Madoff was exposed in December in a massive financial scandal that rocked the country.

Two-time SYEP participants Carissa Ho, 19, (left), and Dan Tran, 17, (right) are reapplying to the summer jobs program at the Chinese-American Planning Council. Related story.

The recession was already 14 months old.

Congress passed the new president’s stimulus plan on Feb. 13, 2009. The idea was to heal the ailing economy by pumping in public money that would encourage private investment, hiring and consumer spending.

Lawmakers split largely along party lines. Conservatives opposed it as a government boondoggle. Liberals questioned whether it would do enough to help America’s suffering middle class.

The Act includes $499 billion in spending – that is, federal grants, loans and contracts – and $288 billion in tax cuts and benefits for families and businesses.

Congress divided the money up among 28 federal agencies, from agriculture to veterans’ affairs, which started distributing the money to states, educational institutions, non-profits and private companies. The state money filters down to local governments and agencies, which then identify projects, request bids and choose whether or not to accept them. In the meantime companies and non-profits go after the money from the other end, submitting bids, winning money and doling it out to subcontractors.

When it’s all over, sometime around the end of 2012, New York State will receive close to $30 billion in stimulus funds. New York City will receive between $7 billion and $9 billion of that, depending on who you ask.

An art installation in a Chashama location on Lexington Avenue. There is no open entrance to this exhibit but it is visible from the street. Related story.

The funds are being used to improve city infrastructure and energy efficiency, create jobs and improve schools, support health-care and social programs, among other categories. The city’s largest stimulus grant, $175 million, goes to improving the St. George Staten Island Ferry Terminal (see picture above).

In New York City, where has fallen slightly in the last three months — hitting 9.8 percent in April — the job market is expected to establish steady growth sometime in the second half of 2010, according to Mayor Bloomberg’s most recent analysis, issued May 6. But that will still leave the city with 169,000 fewer jobs in 2013 than it had when the recession started, the city said.

When it’s all over, sometime around the end of 2012, New York State will receive close to $30 billion in stimulus funds. New York City will receive between $7 billion and $9 billion of that, depending on who you ask.

Stimulus recipients are required to report every three months how the money was spent and the number of jobs created. New York City reported spending $2.2 billion through the end of March, which helped create 21,787 jobs. True enough, some of that money was spent on things like tax breaks and unemployment benefits. Still, that’s more than $100,000 per job.

Click on the links below to see how some of that money was spent.

The Long and Winding Road of the Stimulus
Where are your stimulus dollars going? Follow along as we trace the path of the stimulus dollar from your government to your pocket in this interactive slideshow. Producers: Jordan Shakeshaft and Eugenia Miranda.

A stimulus loan helped Spokes & Strings, a bike shop in Williamsburg, keep its employees hired and buy new frames. Related story.

Microloans Work One Job At A Time
Will Wood was in a bind. Business was off at his Brooklyn bicycle shop, Spokes & Strings, and his line of credit dried up. His loan application landed on the desk of a Brooklyn-based nonprofit specializing in microloans. Find out what happened next. By Lisa Riordan Seville, Danny Gold and Andrea Swalec.

Art in Unlikely Spaces
While arts are often the first thing to lose funding, advocates say they have an immediate impact on recovery. Chashama, a non-profit that turns vacant storefronts into galleries and performance spaces, is one of more than 120 city arts groups that received stimulus grants. By Liza Eckert and Vishal Persaud.

Job Crisis For Teens
The federal government has poured tens of millions of stimulus dollars into summer jobs for teens in New York City. But stimulus funds are running out for thousands of teens this summer as the program progresses into its second year. Read about the crisis. By Jordan Shakeshaft and Michael Cohen. By Jordan Shakeshaft and Michael Cohen.

Poor People Left Out Again
The stimulus program may have saved the U.S. economy from slipping from a recession into a depression, but minorities still have a harder time pulling themselves up. Who’s getting jobs in some of the city’s neediest neighborhoods? Advocates struggle to find out. By Eugenia Miranda and Spencer Freeman.

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