Waiting on That Pot of Money
Philippine News, Commentary, Cristina DC Pastor Posted: Dec 02, 2009
So there we were, a dozen or so ethnic media journalists huddled in the morning chill at the University of California Center in Washington D.C., putting our heads together and trying to figure out where the stimulus money is going.
If the $787 billion stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) –the biggest government investment since the Great Depression -- are supposed to help us with our money troubles, why are our communities still foreclosing on their homes, delaying college education for their children, losing their jobs or not finding any employer to hire them? With Christmas just around the corner, are we supposed to scrimp some more?
Tracking the money, as we would find out, is a tricky process. With three components to the stimulus program (tax breaks, grants/loans, and entitlements) and a million and one ways to go around the system, it’s easy to get lost in its labyrinths and layers. But we got knowledgeable resource speakers intimately connected with the system who tried to steer us in directions each of us wanted to go, but they too didn’t have all the answers.
As Anthony Robinson, president of MBeldef (Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Educational Fund), noted the experience with California’s Prop 209, “Race can’t be used as excuse in making state procurements.” Which means simply that the release of stimulus money could run into bureaucratic hurdles, such as this one. (Prop 209 ends affirmative action programs for women and minorities in government jobs and contracts.) And as Robinson flatly put it, “Money continues to flow to legacy businesses business people are comfortable with, and not to those owned by people of color.”
Web trackers, such as Recovery.gov and Propublica.org, provided an updated breakdown of the stimulus funding as of November 13: $83.8 billion out of a total of $288 billion in tax benefits have been paid out; same is true of $57.7 billion out of $275 billion in contracts, grants and loans; and $78.6 billion out of $224 billion in entitlements. There is still a pot of money waiting to find its way down our communities, but are being held up somewhere in the universe called bureaucratic gridlock.
A quick search of the web tracker showed only one Filipino American business has taken advantage of the stimulus program in California. But in San Francisco, several health and cultural foundations, some catering to our community, have received stimulus grants. The Mission Neighborhood Health Center, from whom our Filipino elderly may have received health care services, received $328,334. The Yerba Buena Arts & Events, which sponsors our yearly ‘parol’ lantern festival received $25,000. The Asian Art Museum Foundation received $50,000. Recently, the museum featured an exhibit on the Pioneers of Philippine Art namely Luna, Amorsolo and Zobel.
In Dearborn, Mich., as reported by Fellow Khalil AlHajal of The Arab American News, only one Arab business has received stimulus funding: a meat market. There are hundreds of meat markets around Detroit, and why only one would get a loan deserves a closer look. Fellow Maya Lolbe Corona of Rumbo publication wants to know if stimulus money is available to art communities in the Houston area. Another interesting study was proposed by Fellow Marcony Almeida Barros of the Brazilian Journal. He wants to see the impact of ARRA on health centers in the Brazilian community in Massachusetts.
As we found ourselves crammed with information, insights and followup questions, some wondered if maybe we, the ethnic media, have not been delivering the information our communities wanted to hear. Individual news organizations are doing their bit as they do due diligence. The New America Media, which organized the fellowship, is a treasure trove of stimulus-related data, complete with commentary and analysis (newamericamedia.org).
What I would tell communities interested in potential grants or loans from the government is to log on to their state website (ca.gov or ny.gov) and look for the link to federal recovery act information. Sites are worded differently; some use the word “stimulus,” others don’t. That in itself might stump and discourage potential applicants. A small plumbing or electrical company, for example, might want to review a list of projects in the pipeline and find out how to apply. A lead contractor for a federal construction project might want to engage the services of smaller firms to get the job going; this would translate to jobs on the ground. About 640,000 jobs have been created or saved by stimulus funding, according to Recovery.gov.
My area of study is quite different -- “esoteric,” according to one resource speaker. Instead of investigating FilAms’ access to funds, I focused on a smaller subset: the Filipino veterans. I wanted to find out why the $198 million pension funds provided for them under ARRA is taking forever to clear, and where the hold-up is. A small 20 percent of the 18,000 veterans projected to receive one-time pensions of $9,000 (for Philippine citizens) or $15,000 (for U.S. citizens) have gotten their checks; many are still in eligibility limbo. Time is running out. The deadline for filing claims is February 2010, but the bigger deadline – mortality among World War II veterans – is ticking every day.
It’s not only our veterans who are getting impatient.
As Devere Kutscher of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce summed up his thoughts, “We are not happy with the pace.” He’s right to say the stimulus program can do without the “burdensome conditions” and pave the way for that pot of money to reignite the economy.
Cristina DC Pastor is managing editor at Philippine News and the recipient of a Stimulus Watch Fellowship from New America Media
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