Stimulus $ coming, but impact not clear

One bright spot in the city's grim budget situation is that federal stimulus dollars are starting to trickle in to city agencies.

The downside? None of the funds from President Obama's $787 billion recovery package can be used for some of the city's greatest needs - to open pools, prevent tax hikes or pay for benefits for city workers.

"The money goes for specific things and it does not go to balance operating deficits," Managing Director Camille Barnett said.

Philly expects to receive at least $931 million in stimulus money - doled out between the city government, SEPTA, the Philadelphia Housing Authority and the Philadelphia School District.

The funds coming to the city will be used for projects that range from street repaving to train-track repairs to youth summer job programs. And the city is still applying for more funds for police jobs, to weatherize homes and invest in neighborhoods.

But while some of the dollars have been handed out and work is underway, the bulk of the funds haven't officially hit the street yet. And it's just too soon to say how many jobs will be created through the programs.

Designed to lift the ailing economy and create jobs, the impact of the recovery program is not yet clear. Nationally, the unemployment rate climbed to 9.5 percent last month; in the city, the rate was at 9.9 percent in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here's a breakdown on how different agencies are spending local stimulus funds and the estimated job impact thus far:

_ The city will receive at least $353 million in stimulus funding. So far, $13 million has been spent on efforts that include preserving 52 jobs in the First Judicial District, job training for seniors and a summer youth-jobs program.

Laura Shubilla, co-president and CEO of the Philadelphia Youth Network, said that $4 million in stimulus funds are being spent this summer on a longstanding youth-jobs program, helping provide 2,500 slots for teens.

Other city programs are moving forward, including plans to repave streets around the city and rehabbing a runway at the airport. That work should start in the summer and fall, said Andrew Stober, Director of Strategic Inititiaves in the mayor's office of transportation and utilities.

"This work is needed very badly, and it's work we would have otherwise have done in the next few years," Stober said. "The stimulus is doing its exact job here - it's taking projects we would have gotten to in the next few years and advancing them to this year."

_ SEPTA is set to receive about $90 million for projects in the city, out of a total $191 million regionally. Some of the projects are already underway, said Bob Lund, senior director of capital construction. They include repairs to lines at the Fern Rock Transportation Station and installing fencing along the R1 Regional Rail Line.

"By mid summer you'll have a lot of people out there working on these jobs," Lund said. "SEPTA has a very old system. This is all work that needed to be done."

SEPTA estimates that its projects will help create or retain about 1,000 direct jobs - working on the projects themselves - and another 1,000 indirect jobs - work for vendors or other outlets that support the projects.

_ The Philadelphia Housing Authority has already awarded contracts for roughly two-thirds of the $91 million they were allocated. Executive Director Carl Greene said that the agency's plans included rehabbing 300 vacant houses, creating more housing for senior citizens and making many high-rises more energy efficient.

"These are projects that would have been on the shelf for years to come because we just didn't have the money to do these projects," Greene said.

The agency estimates that the stimulus funds will create 300 to 350 direct jobs.

_ The School District expects $329 million in funds, which is contingent on state budget approval. A district spokesman did not respond to a request for details on how the dollars would be spent. *