On February 27th, I attended Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s briefing on the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. There was only a couple of days notice about the briefing and I had no idea what to expect. When I showed up at the Asian Cultural Center in the Chinatown section of downtown Oakland, I saw there was going to be a 12-person panel!
The briefing started almost an hour late and they had to bring in more chairs. But there were lots of luminaries in attendance, including representatives from East Bay MUD, BART, Hayward Schools, the Oakland Mayor’s office, Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan, and many, many more, all of whose names I couldn’t write down fast enough. When Barbara Lee took to the podium she got a standing ovation!
Aranthan S. Jones, II, otherwise known as “A.J.” is the Director of Policy and Research for Majority Whip, Congressman James Clyburn from South Carolina. Clyburn and Lee serve together on the Congressional Black Caucus, of which Lee is the Chairwoman. A.J gave the real overview of the Recovery Act and the mandate they followed from President Obama to get it done. Basically, he says they were given an 8 day deadline to come up with a one trillion dollar bill. A.J. was adamant that there are no apologies on the size of the bill or the speed in which it was created.
In the end, they didn’t get the whole trillion, but they did get $787 Billion.
Each member of the 12-person panel represented a government agency and with AJ, Lee and each panelist, we got a good idea for where the money is going in California, the Bay Area and Oakland specifically, and what it means.
Ms. Leslie Walker, Regional Communications Director, Social Security Administration
Mr. Mark Quinn, Regional Director, Small Business Administration
Ms. Karen Schwinn, Associate Director of the Water Division, Environmental Protection Agency
Ms. Caroline Krewson, Deputy Regional Director, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Mr. Richard Trigg, Regional Administrator, Department of Labor
Mr. Emory Lee, Acting Regional Director, Department of Health and Human Services
Mr. Billy Beaver, San Francisco Regional Director, Department of Labor
Phyllis Farrell, Supervisor, Veterans Administration Regional Office
Dr. Donald Medley, Berkeley Lawrence Laboratory, Department of Energy
Bernice Fischer, Governmental Liaison Area Manager, Internal Revenue Service
Mr. Will Kempton, Director, California Department of Transportation.
Here are some of the highlights:
If you are a university or organization that already gets money from the government for science, math, engineering, or green energy, you will get more money.
$ 30 million for micro-finance
$ 2.1 Billion for HeadStart
$120 Million for community-service jobs for low-income, older Americans
81% of state stabilization funds for local education agencies will be spent on construction.
$ 20 billion for foodstamps – increases individual benefit by 13%
$ 87 billion for Medicaid – 30% held for areas with high poverty, the rest is a 9% federal reimbursement to states
$ 7.2 billion to EPA
$ 13.6 billion to HUD – 75% already allocated (!)
$ 4 million to community development block grants and
$ 4.5 billion to labor, $ 500 million goes to green jobs. Labor money will come by March 19th and will have to be expended within 30 days.
$ 38 billion to health and human services, focusing on health information technology, wellness and prevention.
New VA benefits for Filipino vets
IRS had new withholding tables up on their website within 4 days of bill signing (!)
Here are a couple important points for Oakland:
Oakland renters are facing serious problems when the homes they rent are foreclosed upon and banks try to kick them out. Recovery Act includes protections for renters and forces banks to uphold the lease when owners foreclose. There is also 11 million for public housing in the 9th District.
Also, in the Bay Area, the Social Security Administration is hiring 100 people by April 1. Get out your resumes! In California there is $ 4.6 billion to California for transportation infrastructure, which will be creating lots of construction jobs.
If you need a job, government is the place to get one right now. Which, I guess is the point of this bill. I’m wondering how its all going to look in 2 years when the money is gone. Will it have created the stimulus the economy needed and generated new jobs, so those being hired or contracted by government agencies will find new employment, or will this become the new way of doing business? Did the government need to inflate after 8 years of neglect which let more and more and more people fall through the cracks until it didn’t just effect one person or one family or one community, but the whole nation and thus the world? Is this the kind of infrastructure we need to keep up with a growing, changing world? Or, will we just be creating more bureaucracy and pork that needs to feed itself in the years to come?
These were some of the questions going through my mind as I pondered these HUGE sums of money and what they meant for the poor, middle-class and the state of California. Overall, most Americans are going to get a significant tax cut from the Recovery Act. And, just to give you a sense of where California is on all things taxes: California takes in over $8,000 per person a year in revenue, though they only collect about $3,000 of that from individual taxes. The state spends nearly $6,500 a year per person. Yet, for every federal dollar we give in taxes, we get back only $0.78 in federal spending. I am SUPER CURIOUS about how all this will change with the Recovery Act.
Overall, what I heard from Lee and the panelists at the briefing was SPEED, GREEN, TRANSPARENCY. The speed of which the bill was created, signed and money has been sent, and the speed to which government agencies are required to spend it. Really, I can’t tell you how many times my jaw was literally hanging open as panelist after panelist talked about having already received millions of dollars and how quickly they plan to spend it. Shocking for government, just shocking.
Green jobs & energy was mentioned by almost every panelist and it was clear that this is a priority throughout every agency. Amazing to just hear green energy being the status quo in everything from labor to the EPA. And there is a clear process of accountability for all the money and how and where it is spent. These folks seemed determined to do it right.
I also got the sense that a lot of this money was for things that the Democrats have been wanting to accomplish over the last 8 years – like increasing food stamp benefits – but weren’t able to because of Bush’s “starve the beast” approach to government programs for things other than war and defense. I am so proud to be a constituent of Barbara Lee and to hear what she was able to accomplish for Oakland, and other urban areas, to better serve and meet the needs of the poor. In everything from housing and food stamps to job training and health care, Lee took a strong stand and got real results. These are the things that can make all the difference not only in one person’s life but for the whole community in which they are members. We struggle together, we thrive together.