Putting stimulus money to work

The idea of stimulus funds may conjure up images of construction workers and freeways being assembled, but the physical building is just half the story of creating jobs in the region.

Roadside signs may tout work that’s using money from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but a significant amount of stimulus funds have flowed to health and human services, allowing local governments to salve wounds inflicted by state cuts.

Stimulus funding has brought San Francisco $323 million to city coffers, with health and human services and transportation funds awarded $89.5 million and $115.2 million, respectively. The rest of the money is allocated to a hodgepodge of initiatives — mainly work force training and housing — and, to a lesser extent, education, public safety and the environment.

In San Mateo County, only $1.72 million of the $46.5 million in the anticipated federal stimulus funds is devoted to transportation, while nearly $22 million is earmarked for health and human services.

In San Francisco, the $61.7 million directed to the Department of Public Health will soften some of the blow of $100 million in cuts that were made earlier this year to close a more than $460 million city budget deficit, said Greg Sass, the department’s chief of finance.

“Sixty-three million is a lot of jobs and a lot of services,” he said. “Had we not had this revenue, we would have made much larger reductions.”

The funds represent a 23 percent increase in federal money received by the Public Health Department, and it’s spread throughout all its services.

“Running two 24-hour hospitals and medical care in the jails, it’s difficult to make reductions,” Sass said.

Ultimately, behavioral health services might benefit most from the stimulus funds because they are often the most frequently cut, Sass said.

Federal funds are also being used to provide financial help to families. New programs come amid skyrocketing increases in assistance applications and on the heels of the state suspending its welfare-to-work programs.

In San Mateo County, monthly applications for food stamps had risen from 809 in June 2008 to 1,353 in September of this year. Applications for general assistance and CalWORKS similarly rose.

But due to an influx of stimulus funds, San Mateo County families will be able to access a wide range of emergency assistance and subsidized employment services in December. To qualify, families must be under 200 percent of the federal poverty level and have at least one child. A household of two people would have to earn no more than $29,000 a year to qualify. Three people would need to earn less than $36,000. All programs funded with stimulus money will end Sept. 30, 2010.

How much families receive during the four months of short-term assistance will vary depending on need, said Amanda Kim, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Human Services Agency.

“Hopefully we can stabilize a family as we go through a difficult patch,” she said. “It’s a domino effect when someone loses their job. It affects their health insurance, child care, mortgage, credit. Anything you can do to stabilize a family in any one area can have enormous benefits for other dimensions.”

The preservation of health and human services appearing to be behind the scenes when compared with infrastructure projects is due to the lack of a competitive process, said Jed Kolko, associate director and research fellow with the San Francisco-based Public Policy Institute of California.

“You see people repairing the roads and signs saying this is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” he said. “They are more visible than other elements of the stimulus program, like tax cuts and increases in unemployment insurance. These projects, like national broadband, get attention because many of them are awarded competitively.”

The federal funds are distributed to have both an immediate and long-term impact on economic activity, Kolko said.

Programs such as temporary assistance and unemployment insurance “very quickly puts the funds in the hands of people who are more likely to spend the money rather than save it,” he said.

“If money is tight, you’re not in a position to save and you may need to spend whatever income you’re getting,” Kolko said. “The underlying issue is that our savings rate is low, both relative to the past and relative to many other countries. When it comes to stimulus, spending stimulates the economy in the short term more than saving does.”



Cindy Chew/The Examiner

Helping hand: Sandra Rosales and son Christopher select produce from the San Francisco Food Bank’s 200th grocery pantry, which was recently opened at the Lutheran Social Services Mosaica Housing Project in the Mission district.


Nonprofits, arts groups share in stimulus cash

Their share may only constitute a small piece of the stimulus funding pie, but local nonprofits are bolstering their services and saving jobs with recovery money.

The San Francisco Food Bank, which received $33,062 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will use the money to help operate its four recession-relief pantries in The City and one in Marin County.

The stimulus money will help bridge the gap between what the food bank normally receives from the government and its actual costs, said Michael Braude, director of finance and administration for the organization.

“Our need has definitely increased in the recession. We’re seeing a 20 percent increase in clients around The City food distribution site,” he said. The food bank distributes about 3 million pounds of food each month and plans to give out 36 million pounds this year, a 10 percent increase from 2008.

While $33,062 may sound like a mere pittance compared to the multimillion-dollar funding poured into infrastructure projects, the food bank will make it stretch.

“For every dollar donated, we can distribute $9 worth of food,” Braude said. That means the federal stimulus funds translate to about 190,000 pounds of food, or 150,000 meals.

The stimulus funds also extend to nonprofit arts and cultural groups in The City. The Joe Goode Performance Group, Chinese Culture Foundation, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, American Conservatory Theater, Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco, Architecture for Humanity and SFMOMA are among those that each received $50,000 in federal funding.

—Tamara Barak Aparton


Where the money is going

The following shows how stimulus money is or has been allotted locally and statewide.

California’s breakdown of stimulus funding

Health: $9 billion

Education: $8 billion

Labor and work force: $6 billion

Social services: $3.5 billion

Source: Recovery.gov

San Mateo County anticipated funding

Energy: $3 million

Health: $2.9 million

Human services: $12.9 million

Public safety: $908,768

Labor and employment: $3.4 million

Transportation: $1.7 million

Source: San Mateo County Manager’s Office

City of San Francisco funding as of Sept. 30

Arts: $50,000

Energy and environment: $9.3 million

Health and human services: $121.6 million

Housing: $50.6 million

Public safety: $20.6 million

Education: $23.35 million*

Work force development: $6.2 million

Transportation: $115.2 million

Other: $174.54

* As of Aug. 12

Source: City of San Francisco




San Mateo County requests for assistance

Applications received by entry date

  CalWORKS Food stamps  General assistance
June 2008 318 809 305
September 2008 404 950 380
December 2008 366 948 344
March 2009 469 1307 452
June 2009 458 1264 450
September 2009 483 1353 449



Job losses mount in SF, Peninsula

9.2 percent Unemployment rate in the San Francisco-San Mateo area in September 2009

5.2 percent Unemployment rate in the San Francisco-San Mateo area in September 2008

Source: California Employment Development Department

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