Opinion: “Nothing in the Stimulus for Black Folks”

By Fred 

Jordan

In the worst economic times in over 70 years, the Federal government gave the banks and financial institutions over $700 billion to download into the economy from Wall Street to Main Street to Martin Luther King Way.  

The funding failed miserably because big financial institutions used the money to pay off their debts and give bonuses to some of their same officers and staff that put their companies in financial straits.  Main St. got a dribble, but Martin Luther King Way, Caesar Chavez St. and Chinatown got NOTHING!

Then came the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, better known as the Stimulus Bill, to restart jobs and business.  Billions of dollars have been granted to California.  African Americans and other minority groups have received miniscule benefits.  That is one reason why the Stimulus program is not working – the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer and the middle and low-income people are the ones who buy, stimulating the economy. 

Caltrans, which receives about $2 billion from the Federal Government each year and is required to have business goals for minorities and women for this money, “dishes” out less than 1 percent in contracts to African Americans which comprise 10 percent of the state’s population. Pathetically, of hundreds of contracts, Caltrans does not have a single professional service contract for engineering, architecture or construction management with an African American company.  

This doesn’t include another $2 billion of Caltrans state funds that are prevented from reporting by Proposition 209.  Ditto, “Nothing.” 

So when the Stimulus money comes in for “shovel ready projects,” Black folks “ain’t in on nothing” to receive anything. The jobs go to the companies that have workforce in place on their “shovel ready projects.”  Discrimination continues, just in another format.  Unemployment in the Black community, such as San Francisco’s Bay View Hunters Point or East Oakland, exceeds 30 percent in real time.   

Of course, much of the transportation Stimulus money is distributed by Caltrans, meaning that acceptance of $1 will federalize a project for minority and women business goals.  Caltrans gave $50 million to the $1billion Doyle Drive Project in San Francisco. The project not only “thumbed” its nose at the over 50% minority population of San Francisco, but angered city officials because it utilized very few City residents.   

Caltrans also gave over $50 million in Stimulus monies to the $1billion San Francisco Transit Center, replacing the Transbay Terminal. A study by the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce revealed that of 52 contracts, not a single contract went to an African American company.  Recently, the Transit Center hired a Black firm on a bid for outreach professional services that hardly has enough money to have a meeting to do outreach.  Obviously, that contract was meant to “be dead on arrival.” 

Yet, the most blatant and discriminatory transportation project is the $43 billion California High Speed Rail Project from Sacramento to San Diego, which has doled out very quietly over $800 million in environmental and engineering contracts to about eight multinational firms. Many are foreign owned, and most certainly not from California. 

The trains will come from either Europe or Asia.  The insensitive Rail Agency claims that it doesn’t have to do anything because of Proposition 209, eliminating affirmative action.  Not one Black company has been identified on the project, even as a subcontractor! So, Stimulus for whom?  Obviously, the High Speed Rail Project has learned nothing from the BART Oakland Airport Connector that lost its stimulus funding because it ignored the minority community. 

Today, $1.2 billion of Stimulus monies have been awarded to the rail project from the Federal Railroad Administration, which has no goals for minority and women businesses, unlike Federal Transit, Federal Highway and Federal Aviation Administrations.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and her Congressional colleagues caught the exclusion. Black Caucus member, Representative Gwen Moore, D-WI, introduced a bill, HR 5010, to include 10 percent for disadvantage businesses. Remarkably, the bill remains buried in the House Transportation Committee.  Ditto, “NOTHING!” 

 By comparison, the $4 billion Northeast Corridor High Speed Rail in the early 80s from Washington, DC to Boston involved over 200 firms, mostly local to the various corridor communities.  TY Lin, a minority firm from San Francisco, and other Black engineering firms along the corridor received major contracts. 

Many see the Stimulus program as a transfer of wealth to big business. However, until there is a program that directly stimulates the minority businesses and communities, this economy will remain anemic.