What is Minnesota getting in stimulus money? (A live-blogged hearing)

From my colleague Mike Caputo

Much remains unknown about the performance of the so-called American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly referred to as the federal stimulus effort.

So when Rep. Betty McCollum held a hearing on stimulus money in Minnesota at the State Capitol, we thought it made sense to drop in. We live-blogged the nearly two-hour hearing.

Here are a few quick takeaways:

***A February 2009 memo from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office says that Minnesota would eventually see 66,000 jobs saved or created by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We heard a few numbers during the hearing on jobs:

* 54 St. Paul police officers saved.

* 10 new jobs for a contractor working to rehab the Job Corps building.

* 176 jobs saved by weatherization projects in Ramsey and Washington counties.

* 170 jobs preserved in improving public housing in St. Paul.

* 1,500 people hired to teach challenged kids (albeit temporarily).

* 5,000 teaching positions saved.

***Trying to keep up with the paperwork for stimulus money is a challenge. Small school districts may not have the staff to prepare proposals for the money. The paperwork also bedeviled the Community Action Partnership, which deals with low-income housing.

***You might be surprised to know that there is $1.2 billion nationally for summer jobs to young people. Minnesota has gotten $15 million of it.

***The executive director for Minnesota’s statewide Head Start program doesn’t think this state is getting an equitable share of money to expand the early education effort.

***Local governments are cautious about taking stimulus money, if that means creating an effort that will need financing down the road.

You can read the full text of the proceedings below

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9:40 a.m. (20 minutes prior to the hearing)

By some measures, Minnesota seems to be getting some early attention from the so called American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, better known as stimulus funding. We rank 11th in the nation for contracts, grants and loans awarded so far, according to ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism organization based in New York. That’s about $2.7 billion in funds.

But there are questions about the jobs being created through the stimulus effort. You might remember the MPR News report by Mark Zdechlik that questioned just how many jobs the stimulus money will create for road projects.

Rep. Betty McCollum has a number of people invited to testify, including St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington; Minnesota Head Start Association Executive Director Gayle Kelly and Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps Director David MacKenzie.

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10:00 a.m.

Just as an aside, the congresswoman is sporting a small cast on her left hand. Broke her wrist apparently.

And we begin…..

10:06

(She’s joined by Sen. Larry Pogemiller)

McCollum: Don’t forget the freefall we were in back in 2008. Thousands of jobs were being lost. Congress was saying stop this from being a depression Now we’ve added jobs. (The message so far: this is working well… we can make it better, but it’s working well)

10:08

McCollum – Real measure is whether it’s making into our communities. She’s pointing to Open Cities on the westside, weatherizing homes.

10:11

Sen. Pogemiller takes the microphone and said the package meant to billions for the state to fix the budget. “If you hadn’t done that our state budget would have collapsed,” he says. Might get a different view from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, were he here.

10:13

Pogemiller says: Most of money given so far has meant job protection… he claims $196 million in weatherization improvements for homes will mean new jobs.

10:18

St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington… The money is a matter of “life or death.” We were facing a budget cut. When you start cutting millions out of my budget you are taking squad cars off the streets and cops off the beat. The recovery money has put a “cork in the hole of the dyke.” We were looking at laying off 54 officers… bring down the contingent to just over 530.

Biggest allotment for cops – $10 million grant. It revitalizes a community policing effort that was withering. Says they are still waiting on some request for funding, however.

10:23

Harrington says the grant money comes from the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office.

10:26

Some how the Gang Strike Task Force comes up when McCollum tries to clear up any confusion after Harrington spoke about money for dealing with gangs… that’s it’s not part of the embattled Gang Strike Task Force. Harrington: “We are very concerned about the violations of conduct.” Then he moves on from the topic.

10:31

A shovel-ready project comes up.

Now speaking David MacKenzie, director of the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps – Without the stimulus money, we would have had to endure situations that were less than ideal. Talks about getting $800,000 to rehab the Job Corps building right across the street from the fairgrounds. Then the contractor on this job, Bill Breske of Meyer Contracting, speaks about the work at the Job Corps.

Breske: “We can employ about 10 (new) people full-time. Should impact 20 subcontractors over the next ten months.”

10:36

E. Thomas Sullivan, senior Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University of Minnesota now talking. Says the stimulus money mitigated costs to the students. Says $50 million has been used for tuition mitigation. Says it will reduce tuition for some. How does that jive with the news of the University’s recent budget request. “No resident student will see more than a $300 increase this coming fall.”

10:40

Sullivan: Research money will be enormous. Applied for 830 stimulus grants from five different federal departments. Eighty awards have been given for $66 million – High energy physics project in Northern Minnesota (funded by Department of Energy).

10:44

Clarence Hightower speaks. He runs the Community Action Partnership for Ramsey and Washington Counties, and talks about $12 million in recovery act money for home weatherization projects. He says the money Will preserve 176 jobs. (In fact much of the talk from those speaking has been about saving jobs,not creating them).

10:45

Now Hightower says he will hire 18 people for the weatherize homes. They usually do 350 homes in a season. This money boosts it to 1,700 homes.

10:47

Finally here some concerns about the stimulus money from Hightower who says “We are nervous, because we don’t know what to report out.” Hightower also says that we have to also wrap our arms around “inclusion.” This kind of weatherization work has traditionally excluded minority workers because “of unions and that kind of stuff.”

Pogemiller chimes in and says that spending money efficiently “is a concern.” Clarence Hightower, from the Community Action Partnership, says the money came trickling in. so we were “putting nickels and dimes together” to ramp up their employee base.

10:56

Norm Champ, works for Tree Trust, a non-profit organization that put youth to work with summer jobs. Champ says that this has been the worst situation for teenagers and summer employment since 1948. He says there has been criticism about money going to summer jobs. He defends this, saying that it helps kids learn about accountability. Champ says that nationally $1.2 billion in stimulus money for summer youth. Minnesota got $15 million of the money.

11:04

Dan Mikel, a retired teacher on Social Security who lives in South St. Paul and a self described “working stiff”. Has a 50-year old house. He needed a new furnace. They bought one, that cost $4168. The deciding factor for buying it when I was reminded that I could get a special tax credit through the stimulus bill.

11:07

Gayle Kelly, executive director for Head Start in Minnesota speaks. She said the money allocated in the stimulus bill for Head Start is $2.1 billion. The flagged amount for Minnesota is $12.3 million “which is a bit of a concern because that’s less than one percent, and we ususally get one percent.”

11:11

Kelly said flat out that “I’m not sure we are getting our fair share in Minnesota.” Kelly said her organization wrote grants for 700 slots for expansion of the program. No word yet on those, but it’s not enough.

McCollum says that good grant writing is a must (although she sympathizes with the emphasis on it). Then she gives a talk on do everything you can to “get counted in the Census” saying that is how the money flows.

11:16

Just as an aside, there was another Congresswoman who had a few thoughts about the Census.

11:21

The hearing moves to poverty. “Never seen so much angst and anguish as I have at the food shelves,” McCollum said as she introduced Newell Searle, who runs Second Harvest Heartland.

Searle explains that he gets stimulus funding through emergency food assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (what we once called Food Stamps). he said that the goal, before the money came, was to distribute 45 million pounds by end of ficsal year (end of September). They can go to 48 million pounds. But it’s not enough.

11:28

Jon Gutzmann, executive director of St. Paul Public Housing, says he has already spent the $10 million in capital improvement money from the stimulus. The money went to renovate McDonough Homes, a public housing effort in St. Paul. What about jobs? Gutzman said they hired 26 long term seasonal workers (to get into the spirit of creating jobs). He says that in total the money would preserve about 170 jobs.

11:33

Myra Peterson, a commissioner on the Washington County Board, now gets into the act. Peterson gives a subtle cautionary note about not saying yes to federal money if it obligates the Washington County to spend wildly beyond the amount they get from the stimulus.

11:35

Another county official, Terry Speiker from Ramsey County, said there is a website for the east metro area that is trying to show where the money is going. It’s an effort in transparency, Speiker says. See it here.

11:43

Finally Charlie Kyte, the executive director for the Minnesota Association of School Administrators said the schools “would be in a disaster” without the stimulus money. They get funds through Title 1, which helps struggling kids, and through special education services.

The Title 1 money will mean hiring 1,500 people to deal with troubled kids. But another cautionary note from Kyte: “We’ll probably have to lay them off after the two years.”

11:47

More testimony about the stimulus retaining jobs – Kyte said that the federal stimulus money has allowed schools to hang onto 5,000 educators and staff.

Kyte said some superintendents have told him that reporting on the federal money has become so difficult that they are pulling people off of teaching to do the work.

11:50

Kyte said one problem is that Minnesota schools will have a difficult time competing for the money because we’re made up of “small school districts” with limited resources to apply adequately. Kyte said they’ll likely have to wait for the state to make the applications for further funds. “We appreciate the money, but we haven’t yet figured out how to access it,” he says.

11:54

McCollum bangs on the state government for cuts to education as the hearing comes to a close. Again, you wonder how Gov. Pawlenty would retort.

11:57

She also promises town hall meetings on health care. My guess is they might be a little louder in tone than this was.

We’re out. Thanks for dropping in.

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