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Closing the Circle: Social Responsibility and Federal Stimulus Funds

News reports indicate that thousands of new jobs are being created through specially funded ARRA stimulus fund programs, which is a bit hard to believe considering that most companies are not hiring or expanding, and some are barely making ends meet. Instead, it's more likely that layoffs are being temporarily staved off by staffing ARRA projects with workers who were recently let go or soon will be. Realistically the most significant portion of the billions in aid to SLGs will be made available to address state budgetary problems, not to create new jobs.

Another lesser known reality: As reported by Recovery.gov, in federal fiscal 2009, almost two-thirds of Recovery Act funding to states and localities will support health-related services. This figure isn't surprising given that in some states, including Maryland, the number of newly insured Medicaid recipients has grown exponentially over the past year, due primarily to the increase in jobless rates. And this enrollment expansion is being necessarily funded directly and indirectly by ARRA dollars.

While the expenditure is important, climbing Medicaid figures limit available funds for other critical ARRA-related projects; not surprisingly, reducing the unemployment rate is a primary goal of the ARRA legislation.

The good news is that stimulus spending has the ability to create and save jobs, but it must take place quickly. Statistics in regard to stimulus funds change regularly, but of the approximate $330 billion available, state and local governments can apply for approximately $100 billion in competitive or discretionary grants to fund unique ARRA projects. And these projects directly impact state unemployment statistics.

Although the ARRA legislation is very complex, and it can be hard to see through the red tape to the ultimate benefits, numerous projects are already under way that impact local communities. TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Discretionary Grants, for example, specifically fund transportation surface and infrastructure projects. These projects present outstanding benefits for the public and are highly visible because of signs required to identify them as ARRA-funded.

Could it be considered fiscally irresponsible not to seek stimulus funds at the SLG level? Perhaps that's a bit strong; but it doesn't hurt to be aware of the positive economic and social impact that well targeted, well planned and well funded projects can make. And given the deteriorated economic situation that's coupled with disappointing state budget forecasts, it's without a doubt the time to maximize the use of stimulus dollars.

To make the most of these hard-won and coveted funds, projects need to be launched without delay, and they need to be executed using an airtight IPT to reduce the risks of poor results and project failures. Opportunity is on the horizon, but only solid planning and skillful management will make it real.

Bill Damaré  |  Contributing Writer
Bill Damaré is regional vice president of government markets for ESI International, a provider of project management and contract management courses and training. He has more than 20 years of experience in business management, and currently leads ESI's government business. He holds a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of Maryland. For more information visit www.esi-intl.com.