The end of one year and the start of a new one are inevitably accompanied by reflection and resolution. For those of us involved in the stimulus program, we feel lucky to have seen some great projects and to have heard the stories of great courage that accompanies them.
The stimulus program was enacted to bridge a financial gap and to enable this state to make significant investments in education, energy, technology, research, public safety, health care, transportation and social services – and above all, in people – in an economic environment that precluded doing so. It was an opportunity – to save jobs, to create jobs, to develop innovative programs and to help Massachusetts residents get back on their feet.
Governor Patrick asked me to make it a priority to see firsthand the impact stimulus has had and I have spent the last year visiting many programs, projects and organizations that have received stimulus funding to do that. I’ve been to over 100 projects and programs. What I have seen and heard and learned is that not only has stimulus kept people working but it has also inspired many of the recipients to create programs whose impact will be felt well beyond the life of the stimulus program.
Programs like the job training program, Vocational Opportunities in Communication Education (VOICE), that Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) developed to enable visually impaired students to receive hands-on training in MCB’s radio studios.
This stimulus grant not only provided carpenters, electricians, sound equipment installers and others with jobs but it left a state of the art radio studio to train blind students. It’s providing great radio programming as well.
Janet LeBreck, commissioner of the MCB, pointed out to me that the program “offers individuals who are blind a skillset for job training and job readiness.” But Jay Rufo, VOICE’s instructor, told me it provides its students with so much more. “Not only do the participants enjoy this but it is a confidence builder,” he said. “It is amazing. People who couldn’t get their feet in the door are now finishing a 60 minute program, editing it and producing it.” I’m betting they’ll be able to do more than get their feet in the door of a job interview after they finish this training.
YouthBuild, a national job training youth development program, also provides young adults who have no opportunities or hope with the skills they need to become self sufficient. Stimulus provided YouthBuild programs in Massachusetts with $2.1 million and the impact of those dollars will resonate for years to come in the kids that were helped and the programs that were implemented with those funds.
I saw this when I visited YouthBuild Fall River . The organization’s stimulus award of $1.1 million is enabling the agency in this South coast city to enroll two classes of 34 kids all of whom have dropped out of high school. “If it wasn’t for us, these kids would have nothing to do,” Terry Moran, the coordinator of the program told me.
These kids will graduate as competent carpenters and tradespeople with marketable skills and confidence.
The program also received a $100,000 stimulus-funded green capacity grant to develop a green building curriculum that is the basis of the training program. This means that these YouthBuild participants will graduate the program with nationally recognized credentials and twenty-first century skills.
Providing people with the skills to get a job is an important part of the stimulus program. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Recovery Act’s $122 million weatherization program which not only weatherized more than 7,700 homes across the state – reducing energy bills and keeping people warm – but also provided many out of work laborers with jobs. John Call, a contractor who had been in business since 1978 told me he would have had to close his business if not for the weatherization program which is keeping him and five employees hard at work.
The weatherization program is also providing retraining in green energy construction, providing people like Russell Rososky, whom I met at Springfield Partners for Community Action, an anti-poverty agency, with the opportunity to work. Russell told me he had been out of work when he heard about an opening in Springfield Partners, which received $8.3 million in stimulus funds for its weatherization program. Russell received green energy training and is now the utility program coordinator.
Stimulus is also funding the future of green energy with grants provided to private companies like Machflow which has developed a green air conditioning technology that replaces toxic chemicals with gas as the coolant and Premium Power Corp. which develops low cost, grid scalable batteries that have the capacity to store and retrieve energy. Stimulus funding has also energized the state’s solar energy program with 114 new projects – not to mention the impacts on the companies that are installing these projects. It is also funding research that will have a tremendous impact on the future of this country in terms of energy efficiency, fighting disease and technological advancement.
Anyone who drives knows the impact stimulus funding has had on the roads and bridges in this state. Those green and orange signs are everywhere in the state. I had the opportunity to see a new, beautifully built bridge in Clinton that replaced a 90-year old decrepit structure. But there are quieter infrastructure projects that I had the opportunity to see and their impact is just as significant. Clean water and drinking water projects are examples and the stimulus program helped fund 110 of these projects — like the desalination plant I got to see that is being built in Swansea . This plant is the first public system of its kind in the state. It involves taking salt water from the Palmer River at low tide when salinity levels are low, removing the salt to produce high quality drinking water and discharging the residue at high tide. It is vital to this seaside town which has experienced chronic water shortages.
I also had the chance to see Brockton’s new wastewater treatment plant which benefited from stimulus funds and the stimulus-funded upgrades to Pittsfield’s plant. Pittsfield’s Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood told me these are the first major upgrades to the plant in nearly 40 years and he said that the improvements could result in an average energy reduction of approximately 75 percent.
All of the work in Swansea, Brockton and Pittsfield is being done by private construction contractors in an indusrty that has been particularly hard hit by this recession.
Perhaps even more significantly, these stimulus-funded projects are ensuring that companies like P. Gioioso & Sons – which is reconstructing Framingham’s sewer system as well as working on four other stimulus-funded construction projects – can stay in business. The 50-year old company was in danger of closing down but is now employing 30 people.
Stimulus funding also provided a tremendous boost to career centers across the state – enabling them to provide job seekers with incredible services and training at a time when they need it most. I saw this when I visited the Greater New Bedford Career Center and heard from its manager, Maria Grace. She told me the stimulus funds ensured that there was no cut off of services and no wait list — a relief to every one of its clients. She said that this gave her and her staff the ability to be creative, something that she said was crucial in this recession in which career centers are seeing clients with a much larger range of skills than was typical. “We were able to offer people programs to get certification, to learn other skills,” Maria told me.
These stimulus-funded programs helped Christopher Moniz a father of two who was laid off. Christopher, a former truck driver, got his Commercial Driver’s License through the career center and is now employed.
Of course, there are those who continue to struggle and stimulus has made itself felt there as well. Across the state, stimulus has provided funds to anti poverty agencies to help these organizations in their efforts to help others. I saw this at the North Shore Community Action Programs where its stimulus grant of $1.1 million is preventing homelessness, providing financial counseling and afterschool programs, among other services. I saw this at the South Shore Community Action Council , where Pat Daly, its executive director told me her agency served over 26,000 people over the past year.
I saw this at Lynn Economic Opportunity (LEO), an anti-poverty agency that is trying to do everything it can to help address the needs of the significant indigent population in this city. Ann-Marie Karianas, the agency’s COO told me that as soon as they heard about the stimulus program everyone at the agency started planning for ways that they could put the money to good use. They definitely figured it out. Stimulus funding helped LEO hire a housing search worker to help the homeless and two health advocates to help parents and their children, a day labor program was developed and a teen anti-violence program and a whole new IT infrastructure was put in place. They got an early Head Start program going — and a new building for it — and they were able to increase their weatherization program.
And that is really what the stimulus program is about: opportunity. Opportunity for someone like Krystal McClure, who, two years ago, was living in a shelter with her then one and a half year-old daughter, and no job, no training and no prospects. She took a series of stimulus-funded courses at Action for Boston Community Development and received certification that led to a job. Krystal and her daughter are now living in her condo in Franklin Hill and she is also pursuing her Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education.
“If it wasn’t for the stimulus program, I wouldn’t have the skills I needed to get a job,” Krystal told me. “My whole class got these skills to get a job. Many of us were in shelters, have kids, there are a lot of us who are struggling to get through life like I am.”
And, on that note, I’d like to wish a very happy new year to you and yours.