Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More Stimulating Stuff about the Stimulus

On Wednesday, March 18, I attended a Federal Stimlus Package Town Hall Forum at the Lally building of the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY, one of a series of events put together by Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and the New York State Senate; the local state senator, Neil Breslin, was the masters of ceremonies.

I was surprised to find at 5:50 p.m. plenty of empty seats because I had heard that the first two events were standing room only; evidently, some folks knew that the program was going to start late. Soon enough, though, the room was packed. The head table had a half dozen agency heads or representatives, which made me think this was the only speaker; that would not prove to be true, as the total number of speakers exceeded a dozen and a half.

First, Michael King narrated informaion along with this PowerPoint presentation. I was looking for the small businesss aspects. First to pop out at me was on page 17, which deals with labor, specifically the Workforce Investment Act, which is involved with training and increased unemployment benefits. Page 40 discusses tax cuts for small businesses.

Bob Hansen, from the state Department of Transportation, District 1 explains that the stimulus is in a "use it or lose it" situation. We heard that the first shovel-ready project in the area will be street repair on Delaware Avenue in Albany. (I hereby nominate the word "shovel-ready" as the word of the year.) Jerry Jennings, Albany's mayor, was present at the event.

Peter Hal (?) from Empire State Development wanted to encourage women and minority businesses to register for MWBE status here., because there will be some set-asides available.

Ann Bouby from the state Department of Labor noted that the jump from 5.1% to 7.1% unemployment in a year is "unprecented". It is fortunate that unemployment insurance has been raised by $25/week, retroactive to March 1. She said that people can now opt to apply for COBRA, even if people opted out before because it was too expensive. She mentioned in passing $8 million trade adjustment assistance if job goes out of country. She also talked about the sharted job program that Darrin blogged about earlier this year, and noted that municipalities, as well as businesses, could take advantage of the program. If you need to call the department, call late in the week when the phone volume is less.

Another speaker, I believe Susan Beaudin from Office for Technology, Counsel, noted that the broadband initiative, with 80% federal money and only 20% match is open to a wide array of entities. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is facilitating public meetings across the country, including one in Albany Monday. The USDA rural initiative is also involved in this area.

Gary Brown of the Public Service Commission touted the "45 by '15" program, whereby by 2015, New York will meet 45 percent of its electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and clean renewable energy. Stimulus monies should be available for this.

The Senate Majority Leader, Malcolm Smith, arrived late, after some budget negotiations, and encouraged those who are getting tax breaks and/or jobs as a result of the stimulus to go spend some of that money to help others thrive as well.

There were many more speakers, but the bottom line is that the process is an ever-evolving one. Part of the issue is that the information on many programs cannot be finalized because it's somehow tied to the passage of the state budget, which will happen...any day now. Yet the state must work quickly to meet various deadlines lest the monies be diverted to other parts of the country.

This week, a second draft list of all projects submitted to New York's Economic Recovery and Revitalization Cabinet was posted. It can be accessed on the state's Economic Recovery website, or downloaded directly using this URL.

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