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Not Enough Stimulus for Ethnic Communities


Monday, February 22, 2010
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It’s been a year since President Barack Obama signed the $787 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package. The largest public investment in America’s infrastructure since the Great Depression, Obama called it “the most sweeping economic recovery bill in our history.”

But a year later, many Americans are still hurting. And while the Labor Department reports the unemployment rate for whites has begun to fall (to 8.4 percent in January), it continues to rise for ethnic minorities. For African Americans, it is 16.5 percent and for Latinos unemployment is 12.6 percent.

And the reasons for these disparities lie at least in part in the unfair and unjust way the stimulus package has been implemented.

A series of investigations coordinated by New America Media show that over the last year those dollars have systematically bypassed communities of color.

Consider the following: In the last year, 98 percent of stimulus contracts from the U.S Department of Transportation have gone to white-owned firms. Meantime, a new government-backed small business loan program created by the stimulus benefited white-owned businesses 91 percent of the time. These disparities run across almost every government agency that received money under the Recovery Act. Of the 630 grants given to arts organizations by the National Endowment for the Arts, for example, only 12 (less than 2 percent) went to Latino organizations .

In Minnesota, the apportionment of stimulus dollars has been so unfair that community leaders have begun circulating a petition formally requesting that their state immediately terminate all federally funded transportation contracts.

Nine projects with estimated costs at over $91 million are located in the Twin Cities’ outer suburban ring, while Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, which has highest proportion of blacks and other people of color, received the lowest amount of transit work dollars ($3.8 million) among the state’s eight U.S. districts.

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There is some reason to hope, however.

Almost a year to the day President Barack Obama signed the stimulus into law, his administration finally pulled stimulus funds from an agency for failing to comply with federal civil rights laws. The case involves BART, Northern California’s commuter rail, which sought to use $70 million from the stimulus to build a spur to the Oakland Airport that would travel through — but not stop in — impoverished East Oakland.

In a February 12 letter to local officials, FTA administration Peter Rogoff said BART’s plan failed to comply with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits agencies that receive federal funds from using discriminatory practices.

Community leaders cheered the decision. The Rev. Scott Denman, the Rector of Oakland’s St. John’s Episcopal Church noted that without the President’s intervention scarce transportation dollars would have been “taken away from those who have trouble affording bus tickets and given to those who have no trouble affording airline tickets.” The money now appears destined for local bus and streetcar service where massive service cuts and fair hikes had been proposed.

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New America Media is the country's first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations.

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