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Stimulus plan needs some stimulation: Awarded $157M in fed funds, the city has spent just $1M, and saved only 52 jobs

MORE THAN six months after President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package was passed into law, the city of Philadelphia has spent less than $1 million in recovery money and retained just 52 jobs.


MORE THAN six months after President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package was passed into law, the city of Philadelphia has spent less than $1 million in recovery money and retained just 52 jobs.

The data was laid out in a memo sent to Mayor Nutter from Budget Director Steve Agostini, and obtained by the Daily News. Agostini, who was recently assigned to oversee the city stimulus program, also reported that the city's efforts to manage stimulus dollars have been hampered by limited communication between departments.

The news comes as the local unemployment rate continues to climb. The Philadelphia jobless rate hit 10.7 percent in August.

In an interview yesterday, Agostini said that the city has been awarded $157 million so far - that does not include funds awarded to SEPTA, the Philadelphia Housing Authority or other agencies - but about $13.6 million is actually in cash on hand. He said that getting the dollars from the federal government has been a slow process, sometimes taking months, and then there are often further approvals necessary before a project can start.

"I would say that the stimulus program is still getting worked out," said Agostini. "It could work a little faster, and there are some things that could be done that could increase the impact in cities."

But the city's oversight of stimulus applications and spending has also been somewhat bumpy. Responsibility for overseeing grant applications and spending has shifted among several officials before landing with Agostini last month. Plans to hire a dedicated "recovery officer" are indefinitely on hold.

In his letter to the mayor, Agostini said that departments had been applying for and spending stimulus funds with little oversight by the city recovery office. He wrote that he feared that the city might lose out on grants, because departments were competing against each other.

Agostini yesterday said that many of those kinks have now been worked out and that the city recovery office has more control over the process. He said that much of the confusion was due to conflicting federal guidelines.

City Council today will hold a hearing on the city's allocation and use of stimulus dollars. The panel will also present its own stimulus research, compiled by former city housing director Tommy Massaro, who has a $25,000 consulting contract with Council.

Councilman Darrell Clarke said that Council had received scant details so far from the administration and he wanted to make sure that the city was making the most out of the opportunities presented by the stimulus program.

"People ask about jobs all the time," Clarke said. "They ask when is that Obama money going to hit the street. I don't really have an answer for them."

Councilman Bill Green said that he wants to know how Philadelphia stacks up in grant applications compared with other cities.

"We have applied for a lot of competitive grants," Green said. "But there are some it's puzzling why we didn't apply."

Council is also trying to make sure that stimulus funds go to create city jobs. Clarke said that there is a hearing scheduled next week on legislation that would require a local preference for contracts funded by stimulus dollars.

Meanwhile, Mayor Nutter yesterday traveled to Washington, where he and other members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors met with White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers. Their message? That stimulus dollars are not flowing into cities quickly enough to stem the rising tide of unemployment.

Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that the group asked the White House for direct unemployment aid to cities.

"I would say that [the stimulus program] is a slow train and right now with the unemployment we have, it's going to take more than a slow train," Cochran said. "We need a federal express."

Much of the massive recovery bill has not been spent yet nationwide. According to a report from the Council of Economic Advisers - a White House agency charged with advising the president - only $151 billion of the package had been outlaid by the end of August. That's roughly 19 percent of the total price tag.