Community effort underway to bring fed. money to Phila.

    Remember those stimulus funds the federal government said could help struggling communities across the country? City governments and community groups are busy trying to rake some dollars from the Recovery Act into the area, with varying levels of guidance and organization along the way.

    Remember those stimulus funds the federal government said could help struggling communities across the country? City governments and community groups are busy trying to rake some dollars from the Recovery Act into the area, with varying levels of guidance and organization along the way.

    Listen:
    [audio: 090519lfmoney.mp3]

    Majeedah Rashid and her coworkers at the Nicetown Community Development Corporation are trying to bring some federal dollars into the neighborhood. They’re spending a rainy afternoon in their headquarters on Germantown Avenue finishing their application for money to fund streetscaping around a low income housing project.

    Outside, it’s overcast and damp. Inside, Rashid is feeling positive but says the application process is complex and confusing.

    Rashid: The paperwork, it is a bear. I mean first of all you have to understand the language.

    Rashid says even for groups that are used to dealing with the feds, the process of getting stimulus money isn’t simple. That’s why the Nicetown CDC is getting help.

    Rashid: What we’ve been doing is working with the Philadelphia Assocation of CDCs, which we’re a member of. And they’ve actually been having training sessions and workshops with authorities from the Federal Government who are kind of instructing people how to access the funds and when they’ll be available and things like that. So that’s made it easier for us.

    Rashid says they are also working with other community groups to get money for green job training. She says the area really needs the financial boost. More and more people have asked the Nicetown CDC for help with food and utility bills.

    The scene is pretty different just a few miles from Germantown, at the hub of city government.

    Hughes: We studied the Recovery Act itself and figured out what its pieces were – these so called 200 different funding opportunities.

    Seated at the end of a long table inside City Hall, Philadelphia Sustainability Director Mark Alan Hughes.

    Hughes: We first of all went through using our own analysis and some available third party analysis and then working with our colleagues across the departments of city government have identified matches between those funding opportunities and the policy priorities and programs of our existing departments.

    Hughes says the city has a large organizational chart of people responsible for bringing stimulus money into the city. There are deputy mayors, and department commissioners, application managers, and project managers.

    Hughes says the city has identified about 25 funding opportunities in the stimulus package.

    And, like the Nicetown community group, he says the city’s going after stimulus money for, green job training.

    Hughes: $500 million dollars for cities to compete amongst themselves to get special green job training academies. And that’s one of the things that we’re working on with the Community College and some of our county partners about pursuing a regional – because many of these jobs and many of these employers are in the suburbs – thinking about this as a regional opportunity that I think will bolster our application.

    Kaplan: This is a daunting task.

    Dean Kaplan is a former Philadelphia Budget Director. He’s now a Managing Director with Public Financial Management.

    Kaplan: The good news is that having the web available and having a lot more electronic information and the development of interactive forms does allow people to get basic information faster. The specific recovery program is very complex and being executed in a short amount of time so those tools help people get more information, faster.

    Kaplan says the size of the pot of federal money, and the level of accountability the President has called for, are new to everyone.

    Kaplan: In general it’s going to be somewhat easier for larger governments to manage this process. They have existing staff who are familiar with a number of the project funding streams, they have management capacity such as in the Mayor’s Office and the Managing Director’s Office in Philadelphia with staff with can be at least temporarily assigned to these projects.

    Cities and community groups figuring out how to apply for the stimulus dollars should be prepared for more of the same.

    Kaplan says the accountability and transparency requirements may serve as a model for dollars the federal government doles out in the future.

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