By Laura Raines, for ajcjobs
The main purpose of the federal stimulus package — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — was to create and save jobs. Yet Georgia’s unemployment rate is currently at 10.1 percent and projected to climb higher by state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond.
So where are the jobs?
The first ones are just starting to materialize and state agencies are optimistic that more are on the way.
“We have received two grants that will fund 74 new law enforcement positions in Atlanta, and that is good news anyway you look at it,” said Deputy Chief George Turner of the Atlanta Police Department.
The state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council received a total of $36.2 million through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Atlanta received about $3.187 million of that to fund 23 new police officers, a grant manager and overtime pay for high-crime areas, Turner said.
Georgia received $31 million from the U.S. Justice Department Cops Hiring Recovery Program to hire nearly 200 law enforcement officers statewide. Atlanta’s $11 million share will fund 50 additional officers for three years.
“The two grants will allow us to better protect Atlanta’s citizens and visitors and to put more people to work,” Turner said.
He expects the Justice Assistance Grant funds to arrive this month, allowing the department to hire a new class of officers by early September. The Cops funding should follow in September, resulting in more officers starting in mid-November.
“We’re taking applications and looking for enthusiastic people, self-starters who will meet our core objectives. They don’t have to have any experience. We’ll train them to do the job,” Turner said.
Starting salaries range from $39,327.60 to $42,128.71 depending on whether the new officer has a high school diploma, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree.
“Stimulus funding is complicated,” said Dave Edwards, senior policy adviser for the City of Atlanta.
“The money is largely being funneled into existing programs and in order to receive it, you have to apply for it. We’re still applying for money in 24 programs and the number of new jobs we see will depend on what we receive. We applied for $46 million with the Cops program and received $11 million.”
The city is seeking roughly $528 million in stimulus funding, with $300 million going to fund the Peachtree Streetcar project. Other grants would be used for neighborhood stabilization, housing redevelopment, homeless services, making city buildings more energy efficient and the international terminal of the airport.
“The stimulus money will create jobs. It’s just going to be slower than we would have liked. It will be six to eight months before all the grants are awarded,” said Edwards.
The Georgia Department of Education has received $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money, with most of it going toward state budget shortfalls, said Chris Schrimpf, spokesman in the governor’s office. The Atlanta Public Schools did receive $3 million from the federal stimulus funds to the state that went toward paying salaries and benefits for 34 teachers, said school communications officer Kimberly Willis Green.
The governor’s office is compiling total job creation numbers for release on Oct. 10, the federal deadline, Schrimpf said.
The fastest job stimulation is likely to come from the Georgia Department of Transportation, and metropolitan planning organizations like the Atlanta Regional Commission, which have received $932 million in stimulus funds for highway and bridge projects.
“We’ve already awarded 94 projects worth a total of $216 million,” said David Spear, press secretary for GDOT, leaving them another $500 million to award by March.
“Before the stimulus funds, our department was in a hiring freeze. We’re down 300 employees from this time last year,” said Spear. “[Gas tax] revenues have been declining and there wasn’t any work going on. Much more than a Band-Aid, the stimulus has been a tremendous crutch that has enabled us to get back on our feet and bought us some time.”
He believes that the funding has done more to sustain jobs than create them thus far. “Contractors have told us that they were several weeks or months away from closing their doors. Without the stimulus, more people in construction and allied industries [quarries and asphalt plants] would have been laid off,” said Spear.
He’s confident that the stimulus funds will also create jobs, but the challenge will be for departments to keep the momentum going after the money is gone in three years.