Where's the stimulus money?

June 19, 2009 9:18:51 PM PDT
New figures out Friday show Texas' unemployment is on the rise again. The state's jobless rate is now 7.1%, which is still better than the national average, but it's steadily climbing. It's now been four months since President Obama announced his huge stimulus plan. However, the promised help hasn't arrived in here yet.

TSU student, Brittany Johnson is spending her stimulus summer stuffing envelopes.

"Right now, I am sending tax evictions," said Johnson.

It is almost too ironic, isn't it. A summer stimulus job sending eviction notices to victims of the economic downturn, but really the only visible sign that the Washington stimulus dollars have reached Houston is this summer job program.

"If it weren't for the summer program, I wouldn't have found one," said Johson.

There are hundreds of office jobs and parks jobs in our area. All for low-to-moderate income young people between 14 and 24 years old. They pay between $7 and $9 dollars an hour for 10 weeks of work.

There are 4,500 of these jobs available in our area. The question though is it what you had in mind when President Obama proposed the plan?

"I think it's a good beginning. I had in mind putting these adults back to work who are losing their homes," said Precinct 7 Harris County Constable May Walker.

The first big chunk of stimulus money was supposed to be spent on "shovel-ready" transportation projects. Some on I-10, more on the North Loop, but four months after the stimulus was announced, only five shovel-ready projects have turned dirt, employing just 73 people across the region.

What about schools? They'll get millions, but none yet, and none before school starts.

How about Metro? They're expecting $89 million, but Metro hasn't seen a stimulus dollar in the account yet. Neither has the city of Houston.

"We don't have any in hand right now," said Ann Travis of the city of Houston.

It's a little frustrating for Travis who oversees stimulus applications for the city. The stimulus was supposed to create or save jobs quickly and four months isn't the definition of quick in Texas.

"We're anxious, we're ready. We want the check in hand now, but that's not how the federal government works," said Travis.

We're told much of the delay is in waiting for the feds to make up rules on how the money will be awarded. They're expecting it to start flowing in August.

One of the stimulus projects will rebuild and improve the only highway on the Bolivar Peninsula. You'll remember that road, Highway 87, was all but washed out in Hurricane Ike. As the storm surge moved in, the highway flooded and trapped Bolivar residents trying to flee. Work began this week to improve the highway.

As for the city of Houston, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, the unemployment rate for Houston was 6.9% percent for May. That's up from the 6.3% in April.

The TWC said the jump is primarily from job losses in construction and manufacturing.

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