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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stimulus Funds Beginning to Appear in Wisconsin

Money is flowing in and more could be on the way

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Four months after President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the billions of dollars slated for Wisconsin are beginning to appear.

Of the $787 billion ARRA funds to be doled out nationwide, Wisconsin is earmarked to receive $3.7 billion.

That may not be all, since part of the $787 billion funding is for discretionary projects that are still being rolled out. According to the Wisconsin Office of Recovery and Reinvestment Web site (www. recovery.wi.gov), applications are being taken for everything from fish and wildlife habitat restoration to biomedical research to fire station construction to teacher training programs.

Transportation Boost

Some of the biggest and most visible projects are in the transportation sector. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Wisconsin has been allocated $529 million for 151 transportation projects. As of June 26, Wisconsin has obligated $375.7 million for projects around the state.

To date, 108 projects have been put out to bid for state and local projects by the Wisconsin DOT, with low bids totaling $297 million. Overall, the state has saved about $23 million during this construction season, thanks to low-bidding contractors.

Look for ARRA funds to be spent on upgrading General Mitchell International Airport, the federal courthouse, city streets and the I-94 north-south freeway.

Job Training

ARRA funds are also being targeted to job-training programs to help displaced workers develop new skills and re-enter the workforce.

The Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board (MAWIB) is seeing more money flow in to meet increased demand for its worker training programs, and the agency is also applying for discretionary funds for specific programs that fit its mission.

MAWIB was able to bump up its summer youth jobs program from 1,000 to 3,000 jobs this year thanks to $4.2 million in stimulus funds for youth services, said Don Sykes, head of MAWIB. He said at least 3,700 young people, up to age 24, applied for the positions before applications were cut off June 15. Otherwise, Sykes estimated that up to 9,000 would have applied.

“This is an indication to me of what’s happening in the economy,” Sykes said. “For many of these kids, that may be the only income coming in for that family.”

MAWIB is also seeing $2.2 million in ARRA funds for its dislocated workers program, which offers individualized counseling and skills training to workers who have lost their jobs. “We’ve got a 100% increase in the number of people walking through our doors,” Sykes said.

The agency will also receive $1.6 million for its adult program, which helps those who have severe barriers to employment, such as ex-offenders. Sykes said he hopes to develop transitional jobs and job training for these individuals.

Sykes said MAWIB is working with two consultants to apply for discretionary funding of specific p r o j e c t s , such as developing green job training. MAWIB is on track to earn about $6 million in discretionary funds, Sykes said.

“That sounds great, but looking at the problem out there, I don’t care how much stimulus money you get, it’s still hard as hell to get a job out there,” Sykes said.

He noted that the agency’s federal funding had been cut this past year, so the ARRA funds, especially for hard-to-employ people, are absolutely necessary. Sykes said public works projects, similar to the ones launched during the Depression in the 1930s, are necessary to eradicate long-term unemployment in the city. “What the stimulus money is doing in many ways is putting people back to work who had jobs,” Sykes said. “But it has not helped us to deal with the problem that we have with 50% unemployment among black males in our community.”

Smaller Projects Spurring Employment

On the other side of the spending spectrum are smaller but still-important projects that are cropping up around the city. For example, Wood National Cemetery, the historic veterans cemetery on the West Side, will receive $980,913 to restore the site. Mat Williams, director of the cemetery, said projects include repairing underground water pipes, raising and realigning headstones and replacing the fence line. Williams said private contractors would be doing the work.

“It’s for the beautification of the cemetery and it helps to put money into the local community and get businesses and people working again,” Williams said.

The Sixteenth Street Community Health Center has already hired a doctor and medical team with a $448,661 grant designed to address increased demand at community health clinics for low-income people, said spokeswoman Ellyn McKenzie. The health center will also receive a $168,390 HUD Healthy Homes Demonstration Grant, which will fund an asthma program that helps patients better understand what triggers their asthma attacks. McKenzie said the clinic is hoping it will receive about a million dollars to remodel its Parkway Health Center on South 20th Street. That will help the clinic see an estimated 2,700 additional patients.

The ARRA funds will help the center meet increased demand due to more people losing their jobs and health insurance, the appearance of H1N1 flu in the community, and rising rates of poverty, McKenzie said. “If people think that the stimulus dollars are being wasted or going off into the atmosphere and disappearing, I would say that’s absolutely not the case,” McKenzie said. “You’re really going to see the impact of the funds.”

Comment on this article at ExpressMilwaukee.com.

Correction: The June 24 article “The Police Shooting in Walker’s Point” incorrectly stated that District Attorney John Chisholm was referring to straw purchases or lie-and-buy purchases as the “classic gun show loophole.” He wasn’t and we regret the error.

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