With news of budget cuts and job losses dominating the local and national headlines, it is becoming more and more rare to hear about a program or service that’s actually receiving funds.
However, back in February, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one of several pieces of legislation that the Obama administration hopes will kick-start the economy by creating jobs and providing much-needed assistance to ailing social services.
Santa Cruz County and the Monterey Bay area are now receiving funds from the Recovery Act in a variety of areas. With the help of the user-friendly Web site Recovery.gov, the current administration seeks to make the recovery process as transparent and interactive as possible.
“The economic recovery bill is not only about creating jobs — it’s also about taking care of the many Americans who have been left behind over the past eight years,” said Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel).
Farr serves the 17th district of California, which includes Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties.
In the area of health services, several local facilities in Watsonville, Salinas, Hollister and Santa Cruz will get assistance. The Homeless Persons Health Project, run by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, will receive over $200,000 in much-needed funds. This agency provides assistance for people struggling with chronic health problems as a result of inadequate housing, improper care or substance abuse.
Christine Sippl, the senior health services manager for the project, said the funding is both welcome and necessary.
“Across the county, these programs are seeing an increase in individuals looking for services and assistance as a result of the economic recession,” Sippl said. “It’s affecting everybody, from high-income earners all the way down to [those] who have been unemployed for some time and are still looking for work.”
Sippl said that the additional funding will be used to increase the operating hours of free clinics in Santa Cruz County so that homeless and uninsured individuals are not turned away when seeking care.
In addition, the Santa Cruz County Housing Authority, a local organization that provides assistance for low-income residents, is receiving over half a million dollars to improve the livability and energy efficiency of its housing units.
Ken Cole, executive director of the Housing Authority, explained that housing authorities across the nation are dealing with longer waiting lists for services in this time of economic recession.
“We’re very excited that the Obama administration is using this funding mechanism to get money out in the community,” Cole said. “It’s a win-win because we will spend the money as fast as we can, which will provide for jobs and economic stimulus and we will also improve the housing that we own.”
Cole explained that the Recovery Act requires that the disbursed funds be used to improve existing housing units, rather than building new ones, because the administration’s strategy for economic recovery is to use the money quickly.
“Building new housing takes a lot of time,” Cole said. “The Obama administration is mostly interested in getting money out in a variety of conduits as fast as possible.”
According to Farr’s Web site, Central Coast schools will be receiving an estimated $34.1 million. Santa Cruz County schools — including Santa Cruz City Elementary, Santa Cruz City High School and Soquel Elementary, as well as the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Watsonville — will receive over $9 million. This money will be split between Title I funding, which is for schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students, and IDEA funding, which pertains to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
In a time of great economic hardship, this additional funding is certainly welcomed by many, but there are concerns about wasteful spending. However, Congressman Farr, who voted for the bill when it was passed in Congress just weeks after Obama entered the White House, said that the plan is the best way to fix the problem.
“This bill isn’t about banks,” said Farr in a column for the Monterey County Herald. “It isn’t about car companies. It’s about putting America back to work and jump-starting our economy.”