Show us the (stimulus) money
First things first about those millions of stimulus dollars coming to New Hampshire: The state won’t get one of those large cardboard checks from Washington.
Whatever the Granite State eventually receives from the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package will be distributed in a variety of ways.
State agencies and communities won’t tap one large account, but rather, can qualify for money through direct funding mechanisms or less direct grants and low-interest loans.
The framework for obtaining and distributing stimulus money is essentially in place. Now, it’s a matter of finding out exactly how much money New Hampshire will get and who will benefit from it.
Not even the person in charge of coordinating the spending of all this federal aid in New Hampshire knows yet how much the state will get. But Orville “Bud” Fitch, director of the newly created governor’s Office of Economic Stimulus, said funds will start arriving soon.
“We’re confident this will put people to work . . . in the near term and in the long term,” Fitch said.
The stated goal of President Obama and the Democratic legislators who supported the stimulus package is to boost the sagging economy through public works projects that will create jobs.
Last week, the White House estimated that stimulus money will put 16,000 unemployed New Hampshire residents to work. Michael Power, executive director of community outreach for the state’s Workforce Opportunity Council, agreed that an infusion of federal aid would allow a sizeable portion of the nearly 34,000 unemployed state residents to earn a paycheck again.
Proponents of the stimulus package also intend to aid weakened state budgets with the infusion of funding in programs such as Medicaid.
Fitch said he doesn’t yet know where the money will land.
But last weekend, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s office said the Granite State would get $860 million: about $609.9 million in funding, as well as an estimated $250 million that would help finance Medicaid over the next two years.
According to Shaheen, New Hampshire’s package will include:
$295 million for schools and colleges.
$49.7 million for weatherization and energy programs.
$13 million for mass transit.
$8.4 million for constructing and rehabilitating affordable housing.
Also, the state Department of Transportation said it will receive $137.5 million for highway and bridge construction and repairs.
The stimulus plan, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is designed to use existing programs and processes to move money quickly into the economy, Fitch said.
As an example of projects that would fall under the faster track, Fitch cited work on highways and bridges. Funds for those projects will move directly to the DOT, he said. The state will then finance “shovel-ready” work on the DOT’s 10-year plan, and towns and cities can apply for money, as well, he said.
Fitch’s office will help determine how many construction workers, electricians and others will be needed for these road projects. Those already qualified for such work will be matched to those projects through a state work-force consortium, and shortfalls will be met by training workers at community colleges, Power said.
Other projects aiming for stimulus money will have to move through less direct mechanisms, Fitch said. These will come in the form of discretionary or competitive grants and loans, he said.
For instance, small towns that might want to build libraries with stimulus money can apply for funding through a combination of grants or low-interest loans with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural facilities program, he said.
Fitch said the money available for this work differs, though. Some of it will be earmarked for New Hampshire, and some of it will be available on a regional level, meaning small towns here might have to compete with towns in New England, he said.
A town could also get stimulus assistance for a new fire station through a homeland security grant, Fitch said. Community development block fund grants can also be tapped for other projects, he said.
Essentially, some stimulus money will come directly to New Hampshire, and the state and municipalities will share the wealth. But some stimulus funding will have to be fought for with other states.
Also, some projects can be funded only through one mechanism, but others can obtain money through a combination of funds, Fitch said. And some of the money – as in the case with the DOT – has to be spent within a short timeline or it will be lost, he said.
“The overarching guideline is to get money into the economy,” Fitch said.
Fitch’s office is designed to coordinate the big and small details of the stimulus package, but the state departments will be managing the programs, he said.
One of Fitch’s obligations is to ensure that the money trail is transparent – a federal stipulation for states to benefit from the aid, he said. Obama vowed that every detail would be publicly available so that taxpayers can judge the effectiveness of the stimulus program.
The information will eventually appear on the Web site of the state’s Office of Economic Stimulus at www4.egov.nh.gov/econstim.
The White House also created a Web site for the same purpose: www.recovery.gov.