Berkeley in Long Line for Federal Stimulus Funds

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday April 08, 2009 - 06:57:00 PM

Berkeley is standing in a long line of city and state governments for federal stimulus money, but City Manager Phil Kamlarz calls the situation “a mess on the federal side,” and it will probably take some time to sort out exactly how much money the city can apply for or actually receive. 

Last February, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, allocating some $787 billion in funds to help stimulate the country’s economy and pull it out of the current recession. Some of the money will automatically go to cities like Berkeley on a formula basis; other must be applied for by competitive bidding. While some ARRA money has already been earmarked, large amounts of it are still without guidelines for local governments to use in their applications. 

Various federal websites list the City of Berkeley as in line for $1.33 million in Homeless Prevention Fund Formula allocations under ARRA, and another $166,000 to the Berkeley Housing Authority for public housing grants. 

The city has scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. on April 21 in the City Council chambers on Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) monies currently being given out through the recovery act. The CDBG money is specifically available for “housing-related activities, improvement of public/community facilities, public services, and planning and administration,” according to the city notice for the hearing. 

Also in the works is another $871,000 in CDBG money that Kamlarz said the city has already applied for, despite the fact that there are currently “no guidelines” for the money because the federal government has only “a couple of weeks” to allocate the money and the city must obligate it “within 120 days.” Kamlarz said the city submitted an ARRA application for a jobs program last Friday, even though there were no written guidelines to go by, “because we didn’t want to miss out on summer jobs for our youth.” 

The city manager said that all of the jurisdictions competing for the money “are in the same place”—trying to sort out the confusion. 

Last month, as part of a call from the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (ACCMA) for stimulus-fund applications in one of the few early instances when detailed guidelines were available, the Berkeley City Council approved an application for $1.6 million in ARRA grants for reconstructing the pavement on University Avenue between San Pablo Avenue and Sacramento Street. Berkeley projects spending $361,000 out of its own capital improvement fund to complete the $1.98 million project. 

Kamlarz said in some areas of ARRA, Berkeley is clearly not competitive. “There is money to mitigate the problem of foreclosures, for example,” the city manager said, “but there are not many foreclosures in Berkeley.” In other areas, where the threshold of the individual program budget may be too high for Berkeley to compete, Kamlarz said the city is looking into cooperating with other jurisdictions to submit grants for region-wide programs. 

Meanwhile, in a report issued to the City Council by the city manager’s office in mid-March, city staff said that Berkeley is also in line for other ARRA funding. That includes: 

• Weatherization Assistance. Funds will be distributed through individual states and can be spent to provide “direct weatherization assistance to low-income residents and for workforce development.” As of mid-March, California had not yet completed program guidelines. 

• Training and Employment Services. Funds will be distributed through formula grants, most likely—in California—through the county Workforce Investment Boards. 

• Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants. While the program itself was approved by Congress in 2007, money was not made available until the ARRA was passed. The Department of Energy has not yet issued guidelines. 

• COPS funding and Byrne JAG grants to go for various law enforcement activities. This money will be available in formula grants to each jurisdiction, including Berkeley, as well as additional money in competitive bids. 

• Health Information Technology to facilitate the computerization of health records. Berkeley’s Health Department is potentially eligible for such funds, whose guidelines for distribution have not been finalized. 

• Prevention and Wellness Fund. No guidelines on how this money will be distributed, though such guidelines are expected sometime in May. The Health Department is potentially eligible to apply and receive these grants. 

The report said that some ARRA funding will go directly to nonprofits, such as Head Start and Early Start programs, and indicated that city staff will be working with the federal government and nonprofit agencies “where possible to maximize [the] total community benefit” to Berkeley residents.