HUDSON–It’s coming, slowly, and though there’s not that much of it, Columbia County is beginning to see funds from the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. So far, it looks like Washington has directed about $15 million this way.
The issue of stimulus funding and its impact is important enough to attract Vice President Joe Biden to the region. He was scheduled to speak Thursday at a high school in Saratoga County, part of the 20th District represented by recently elected Congressman Scott Murphy (D). The district includes all of Columbia County.
Staffers in Mr. Murphy’s offices didn’t have on hand this week exact figures on the amount of stimulus funding received by the county or the district, and local officials didn’t have a precise tally either, but the amounts promised include $4.4 million for the new sewage treatment plant in Hudson, a similar amount for water and sewer upgrades in Greenport, and $6 million for bridge repairs in Germantown. These are so-called shovel-ready projects, which might have ended up in limbo without the stimulus package money.
Also this week, Housing Resources of Columbia County announced that the county has received a grant of $18,009 through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program and paid for through President Obama’s stimulus package. The money will be distributed to local agencies to supplement existing emergency food and shelter programs in the county, according to a press release from Housing Resources. The deadline for the applications is July 23.
“There’s not a lot of money,” said Ken Flood, commissioner of the county Planning and Economic Development Department. He believes that based on the county’s small and shrinking population, we’re not likely to see much of the hundreds of billions of federal money meant for economic recovery.
Mr. Flood and other local officials describe the money promised as funding for part of the backlog of infrastructure projects. This is the first of the three years of the federal stimulus program, and much of the money will go to transportation projects, education, bolstering unemployment benefits and helping pay for Medicaid expenses.
The emphasis on these programs and infrastructure projects leaves little in the way of discretionary funding for things like alternative energy projects and access to broadband communications, said Mr. Flood. Aware of the county’s disadvantages in the contest for the federal funds, Commissioner Flood is working with the state Association of Counties, which is developing a statewide plan for expanding broadband access. Broadband refers to Internet connections that can carry large volumes of data, making for fast connections and a wider range of online services. But even these grants will be “very, very competitive,” said Mr. Flood.
There are ways for municipalities to stretch their funds. Both Hudson and Greenport have received approval for no-interest, long-term loans from the state that equal the amount of the federal grants. Both the grants and the no-interest loans reduce the burden on local taxpayers for needed projects.
The question officials wrestle with now is what happens next. While critics of the recovery act worry that the plan spends too much, supporters say the current economic package is too small and will fail to do enough. They say that could mean the nation will repeat a mistake made during the mid-1930s, when federal support dwindled and economic recovery stalled, prolonging the Great Depression.
Carmine Pierro, aide to Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera, shares Commissioner Flood’s concern that there isn’t much left in the pipeline for the city or Columbia County under the current stimulus plan. “We gave them our wish list,” he said. But so far, the city has had no indication that further funds will be available.
The stimulus package funds for emergency food and shelter were allocated to the county by a national board led by the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA). The board includes representatives from United Way and major religious organizations.
The release from Housing Resources says that to be eligible for the funds local organizations must meet the following criteria:
*Be private voluntary non-profits or units of government
*Have an accounting system
*Have demonstrated the capability to deliver emergency food and /or shelter programs
*Private voluntary organizations must have a voluntary board.
A local board, which will make decisions about the distribution of the funds, has previously distributed federal Emergency Food and Shelter funds to Columbia Opportunities, Inc., Catholic Charities of Columbia & Greene County, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Travelin’ Pantry, the Ghent Food Pantry and Housing Resources of Columbia County, Inc.
To apply for the funds, call Housing Resources of Columbia County, Inc. at (518) 822-0707, ext. 16.