This week, President Obama's economic stimulus plan passes from the U.S. House to the Senate for finalization. As it stands currently, the bill will send an $819 billion Valentine from the federal government to the states.
Together Oregon and Washington are expected to receive between $6 and $7 billion in government spending and more in tax cuts. The government's goal is to pump money into the economy to create jobs, ease the pain of the financial collapse we are going through, and restore confidence that business can bounce back.
Will it work? The same tactic helped during the Great Depression, when thousands of people were put to work on government-sponsored construction projects.
Economists agree it is necessary, but they can't promise immediate results.
The Northwest is feeling the pain now: pain measured in soaring unemployment, business bankruptcies, home foreclosures and families who need help.
The federal money is targeted toward a handful of programs including:
Programs to help support special education, and to increase construction projects that include: roads and transit repairs; school and housing repairs; clean energy projects; water and waste treatment plants.
We've just seen what happens when the government hands out emergency funds with no strings attached. Bankers hand themselves big bonuses. Financiers throw lavish parties and buy new corporate jets. That's why the Obama administration needs to appoint a federal "stimulus czar" with the authority to appoint state stimulus watchdogs, with staffing. The state would have a mandate to make sure these dollars are spent appropriately. This money must be used as intended: to create jobs and contracting opportunities that benefit all Americans— especially low-income communities and people of color.
In the best of times, minorities and low-income communities have been denied an equal share of federal and state resources.
Working directly with the governor in each state, the stimulus watchdog should have the power to take back any money that is not properly used. Congress should mandate that basic level of accountability as it doles out the stimulus funding. State, county and city legislators, -- and any public bodies that receive funds through the package -- should make sure that the funds reach poor and minority communities. Performance on this issue should be tied to the pay of each director that is in charge of each agency. For the most part, government agencies in the Northwest have an abysmal track record.
Living wage jobs and a fair share of contracts for minority communities: it's the only way to ensure we all will grow out of this recession. If not now then when?
What Do You Think?