Posts Tagged ‘ARRA’

Hundreds Of Trees Planted But Few Jobs Created In Clark County Federal Stimulus Project

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am August 8th, 2011

CARSON CITY – If a $490,000 grant to plant trees in Clark County public places as part of a federal job-creating stimulus project should be measured by the “greening” of Southern Nevada, then the effort might be considered a modest success.

Thirteen different government and nonprofit entities applied for 1,814 trees for planting at 35 different public areas in Southern Nevada through the grant. A total of 1,541 trees have been provided to the agencies and groups for planting, mostly at schools and parks around the Vegas valley.

Photo by Nevit Dilmen (2006)

But if job creation to help the country out of the “great recession” is the measure of success, then the funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Clark County “Nursery Greening Project” is not likely to win high marks.

According to the Nevada state Division of Forestry, which administered the grant, few jobs were created. Two positions, equivalent to less than 1.5 full-time jobs, were preserved at the Las Vegas State Tree Nursery. A third position through Manpower Inc. of Southern Nevada was created. In addition, 11 individuals were hired for various aspects for projects to include planters, program development, trainers and drivers. The jobs were short term.

Seven temporary jobs were also created for workers at First Choice Tree Service to plant the trees in 15 gallon containers. A total of 480 hours were worked.

The federal website that monitors American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects, reports the tree planting grant has created 1.72 jobs.

Pete Sepp, vice president for communications and policy at the Washington, DC-based National Taxpayers Union, said the project appears to have generated little benefit in the way of job retention or creation.

Pete Sepp, vice president for communications and policy at the Washington, DC-based National Taxpayers Union.

“At first blush this does seem to have amounted to an awfully high expenditure for a rather low level of results,” he said. “Planting trees is a wonderful thing but if the goal was to preserve or create jobs, a near half million dollar expenditure for a few retained and a few created would strike most taxpayers, especially unemployed ones, as a poor value.”

The project, and many others, raises the question of whether the estimates of job creation through ARRA were ever credible to begin with, Sepp said.

The Nevada News Bureau first reported on the grant in July last year. A public records request to the state Forestry Division provided the results of the grant and its success at job preservation and creation.

Bob Conrad, public information officer for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said of the program: “ARRA projects were solicited to state agencies, and we were given 24 hours to put together very short project proposals. ARRA money had to go through state agencies, and the U.S. Forest Service selected the projects by county.”

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers defended the project in an emailed statement: “The recovery act has given hundreds of Nevadans access to green-collar job training in more than a dozen landscaping workshops, and hundreds of trees have been planted in urban settings, improving quality of life and improving energy efficiency. Trees are a long-term investment – the people of Nevada are reaping the benefits of the recovery act now, and will continue to do so for years to come.”

Nevada state Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, tongue firmly in cheek, said the benefit of the job-creation project has been misunderstood.

Nevada state Assemblyman John Hambrick. / Nevada News Bureau file photo

“Obviously when you look at it, what the public does not understand, and obviously you are missing the point – those trees are very special trees,” he said. “They are money trees. And as they plant them, obviously the county will harvest the bills that grow on the money trees. So in actuality it was an investment.”

After the Nevada News Bureau reported on the program, it along with tree planting efforts in several other states, made a list of 100 questionable ARRA projects assembled by two U.S. senators in 2010 in a report called “Summertime Blues.”

Even President Obama joked in June that the 2009 $787 billion stimulus bill, aimed at creating jobs with “shovel ready” projects, “was not as shovel ready as we expected.” The stimulus was intended to keep the national jobless rate from exceeding 8 percent, but that did not happen.

Even so, defenders of the stimulus said the jobless rate, which stood at 9.2 percent as of June, would have been worse without the grants, extended unemployment benefits and other elements of ARRA. Nevada’s June jobless rate was 12.4 percent, tops in the nation.

Sepp said such claims are questionable.

“It’s impossible to start disproving negative situations through government expenditure levels and employment levels,” he said. “In the end this package over-promised and under-delivered.”

Conrad said an original estimate of 2,500 trees to be planted through the grant was an error. The correct number was 2,000, with 801 purchased from the state’s Las Vegas nursery and 1,195 purchased from L.E. Cooke Co., a tree supplier to nurseries around the country. The trees cost $33.50 each for just under $70,000 total. Of the total, 220 died or were not sellable, and 235 remain to be awarded to the different entities for planting.

Tree types made available for planting included Arizona ash, black locust, desert willow, honey locust and sweet acacia, among others.

Some of the entities requesting and planting the trees includes the city of Mesquite, which received 150 trees, the city of Henderson Parks and Recreation Department which received 128 trees, and a nonprofit group See Spot Run, Inc., which created a dog park in Boulder City.

The Division of State Parks also planted 35 trees at the Mormon Fort State Park in downtown Las Vegas.

Other projects included in the nearly half million dollar stimulus funding grant were tree care classes for Spanish-speaking green-industry workers, a city/regional tree inventory, and urban canopy assessments. Funding for the tree-care classes totaled $30,000.

In a report on the project by the state Division of Forestry, two classes of five, three-hour sessions were held in November 2010 and March 2011 for the Spanish-speaking workforce. There were 510 attendees.

A request for proposals for the tree inventory was issued in July.

About 90 percent of the grant has been obligated to positions, salaries, sub-grants and projects, with about 60 percent spent so far.

According to the Nevada Division of Forestry, the recovery act provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture with $28 billion in stimulus funding, with $1.15 billion of the total allocated to the U.S. Forest Service for forest restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, construction and maintenance of facilities, trails and roads, green energy projects and grants to states, tribes and private landowners. The grant to the state Division of Forestry for the tree program came from this pot of funding.

The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was awarded $46 million in ARRA funding, of which the tree-planting project was one project. Nevada state agencies were awarded $3.3 billion total.

Audio clips:

Pete Sepp, vice president for communications and policy at the Washington, DC-based National Taxpayers Union, says taxpayers do not appear to have received much value from the program in terms of job creation:

080411Sepp1 :15 level of results.”

Sepp says the tree-planting project appears to be a poor value for jobs created or retained:

080411Sepp2 :23 as poor value.”

Sepp says ARRA over-promised and under-delivered:

080411Sepp3 :21 and under-delivered.”

State Assemblyman John Hambrick says (in jest) the trees are an investment that will pay off:

080411Hambrick :22 was an investment.”

Nevada State Controller Unveils New Website, Lists Those With Outstanding Debts To State

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 9:05 am September 10th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Nevada State Controller Kim Wallin today rolled out a new and improved public website that includes a list of businesses and individuals who owe money to the state and the amount they owe.

When state agencies are unable to collect outstanding debts, they turn these accounts over to the Controller’s office for collection. The accounts will be listed on the website and updated as old debts are paid or new debts are incurred.

“By posting the names of debtors we hope to encourage the payment of the debts and discourage others from incurring debts in the future,” Wallin said.

The new website also includes two reports devoted to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funds coming into Nevada. The new ARRA Award Current Summary will supplement the existing quarterly ARRA Report to Our Citizens. This weekly summary provides much greater detail in a more timely manner to track exactly how the funds are being used now.

At the end of September there will also be a feature that lets people pay what they owe using a debit or credit card.

“My office receives several calls a day from people asking if they can pay by debit or credit card rather than sending a check or money order,” Wallin said. “This feature will make it easier for people to make their payments, accelerate collections and reduce the number of returned checks.” 

The Controller is the Chief Fiscal Officer (CFO) of the state and is responsible for administering the state’s accounting system, settling all claims against the state and collecting debts owed to the state. The mission of the Controller’s office is to advance accountability, continuity and efficiency in the state’s financial operations.

Nevada Group Alleges Pro-Union Bias by Members of State Apprenticeship Council

By Sean Whaley | 6:18 am August 26th, 2010

CARSON CITY – A Nevada group that offers training to non-union construction workers has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford alleging an improper pro-union bias by some members of the State Apprenticeship Council.

The allegation comes following the failure of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC) to win approval of an apprentice weatherization program for its non-union construction workers. The same council approved a union-backed program in December 2009.

The ABC initially sought approval of the program in May under Senate Bill 152 sponsored by Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the 2009 session. The program was tabled until August after the ABC had provided all the information sought by the apprenticeship council.

In the letter, ABC President Clara Andriola said the program was virtually identical to the program approved by the council for the Laborers Union with the only changes being those sought by the council itself.

Despite this, the council voted 3-1 on Aug. 13 to reject the program citing a “lack of need.”

Voting to reject the program were employee representatives Daniel Rose and Greg Smith and employer representative Dana Wiggins.

Horsford and others were clear in testimony on SB152 that the programs were to be available to all.

Former state Sen. Warren Hardy, the lobbyist for the ABC, said the organization has not received any response yet on the concerns.

But when members of the Legislature ask why the weatherization program isn’t moving along as rapidly as they would like, the ABC will mention the action of the council, he said.

Hardy called the ability to get an apprentice program “absolutely critical.”

By rejecting the ABC’s program, 85 percent of the construction industry that is not unionized cannot participate, he said. The agency can and will continue to provide weatherization training through its nonprofit collaborative, but there is a belief that the Legislature will require an apprenticeship program in 2011.

“In the short term it’s not the end of the world,” Hardy said. “(But) if you pull the rug out from 85 percent of the industry, you can’t successfully put the construction industry back to work.”

Andriola said in the letter the reason the union training programs have not met with much demand is because weatherization of residential properties is a task that “has traditionally been performed by the non-union sector of the industry.”

The federal government has also said that councils may not apply a “needs based” test when deciding whether to approve a program, she said.

The letter, which was also sent to the members of the Legislative Commission and the Interim Finance Committee, also suggests that SB152 be amended, “in an effort to eliminate the potential for the political gamesmanship that has been so obviously displayed by certain members of the State Apprentice Council in seeking to ‘pull up the ladder’ and insure that such ‘green training’ programs are only available through union programs.”

Horsford was not available Wednesday to comment on the letter.

A representative of the Nevada State Apprenticeship Council could not comment because the decision is being appealed to the Nevada Labor Commissioner. Las Vegas Laborers Union Local 872 could not be reached for comment either.

Andriola said the ABC will appeal the decision to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship as well.

She noted that the ABC supported the Laborers Union program in December, but that union officials testified against its program at the May 13 meeting.

Andriola called the testimony inflammatory and inaccurate “by an organization that is openly hostile to our intentions . . .”

SB152 provided for the use of incentives contained in the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide job training, the promotion of energy efficiency and the promotion of the use of renewable energy in Nevada.

It received unanimous support in the Senate but 10 no votes from Assembly Republicans. Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, one of the no votes, said there were two concerns: whether the training would be available to non-union workers and if enough of the money would go to actual weatherization and not just training.

In testimony on the bill in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in 2009, Andriola expressed concern the weatherization program might allow for only union-affiliated groups to participate.

In response, Horsford said his experience suggested there was no way the U.S. Department of Labor could pass programs that only allowed participation from labor entities. Horsford said it was the intent, based on the wording of the bill, that all apprenticeship organizations, labor or non-labor, were included, according to minutes from the hearing.

The weatherization program in Nevada has been hugely successful, according to Gov. Jim Gibbons, who recently announced the U.S. Department of Energy has selected Nevada to receive nearly $7 million ARRA funds to continue the Nevada Housing Division’s Weatherization Assistance Program.

Nevada has been one of the country’s weatherization leaders under ARRA and is continuing to weatherize thousands of homes for Nevada’s low-income families, he said. Through July, Nevada had weatherized a total of 5,351 homes.

Horsford has been critical of the state Housing Division’s ability to move forward more quickly with the weatherization program, which also involved grants from the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation to non-profit entities to train workers in how to perform the weatherization work.

In turn Gibbons has criticized Horsford in July, saying the majority leader has a conflict on the implementation of SB152 because he is chief executive officer of the Culinary Training Academy, an organization with a vested interest in ensuring the funds identified in Senate Bill 152 go only to union-based collaboratives.

“Despite this conflict, Sen. Horsford continues to regularly participate in hearings and meetings regarding the implementation of S.B. 152,” Gibbons said.

Horsford said in response in July that Gibbons’ claim that he has a conflict regarding the Housing Division and the weatherization program is wrong.

Horsford said the Culinary Training Academy is an agency that helps prepare people to acquire the skills needed for employment in the hospitality industry, and has never had a role in the weatherization program. Horsford is also a volunteer member of the board of Nevada Partners, but said the organization has no direct role regarding the weatherization program either.

“The governor is wrong, and his allegation is unfounded,” he said.

___

View the letter from ABC here:

ABC Letter 8.16.10

___

Audio clips:

ABC lobbyist Warren Hardy says Apprenticeship Council has removed access to 85 percent of the construction industry.

082510Hardy1 :20 who wants it.”

Hardy says denying training to 85 percent of construction industry will ensure economic slump continues:

082510Hardy2 :36 back to work.”

$490 Thousand in Federal Stimulus To Be Spent on Nevada Tree Planting, Tree-Care Classes

By Sean Whaley | 4:16 pm July 9th, 2010

CARSON CITY – Federal government efforts to create jobs through stimulus funding have expanded to encompass an urban Clark County tree planting effort and related activities, including tree care training for Spanish-speaking workers.

The Nevada Division of Forestry has received funding from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to make 2,500 trees available for free for planting by nonprofit organizations, government entities and others on urban public lands in Southern Nevada.

Money for the Nursery Greening Project comes from a $490,000 grant the U.S. Forest Service has allotted for Clark County urban tree projects, said Adria DeCorte, who is overseeing the tree-planting portion of the project for the state Forestry Division.

Other projects included in the nearly half million dollar stimulus funding grant are tree care classes for Spanish-speaking green-industry workers, a city/regional tree inventory, and urban canopy assessments. Funding for the tree-care classes totals $30,000.

When averaged out, if all the trees are planted, the cost per tree will be $196.00.

The grant has generated some criticism by those who question whether any real sustainable jobs will be created.

When told about the project, Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said it does not sound like it will do much for job creation. It sounds more like a program sought by U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to win votes, he said.

“It’s just unfortunate that these pork barrel things are coming forward now,” Hambrick said.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said in an emailed statement it is clear to him the stimulus is not working and the current economic policies are doing little to create jobs.

“My top priority in Congress is to get our economy turned around and Nevadans working again,” he said. “The government cannot spur the economy with deficit fueled spending. Funding tree planting during record drought conditions in Nevada not only is poor use of federal dollars, but makes very little sense.”

Nevada State Forester Pete Anderson said the project is in line with ARRA goals and was selected due to the unemployment rate and economic downturn in the Las Vegas area.

“The project funding has retained several jobs as well as created several more associated with care, potting, transporting and ultimately out-planting of these trees,” he said. “The project is consistent with the administration’s ARRA goals and the many benefits of a healthy urban forest, including energy conservation.”

A statement from the U.S. Forest Service said in part: “Clark County has been devastated by the current economic recession. Funds will be used to retain and create jobs to grow and plant urban trees suited to the desert southwest. Education and training for tree care workers will also be provided to plant and manage trees for public health and safety.”

Similar urban tree planting projects are under way in other states using federal stimulus money. Nearly $700,000 in stimulus funds are being spent to plant 1,500 trees in Georgia. A Pennsylvania nonprofit group received $300,000 in stimulus funds to plant 1,157 trees in 17 different municipalities to reduce pollution from storm water runoff. South Carolina is spending $850,000 on competitive grants to cities and towns in part for urban tree planting.

According to the Nevada Division of Forestry, the recovery act provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture with $28 billion in stimulus funding, with $1.15 billion of the total allocated to the U.S. Forest Service for forest restoration, hazardous fuels reduction, construction and maintenance of facilities, trails and roads, green energy projects and grants to states, tribes and private landowners. The grant to the state Division of Forestry for the tree program came from this pot of funding.

Pete Sepp, vice president for communications and policy at the Washington, DC-based National Taxpayers Union, said some of the more questionable stimulus projects are just now seeping into the public consciousness. Much of the initial stimulus funding went to specifically defined categories like unemployment assistance, he said.

“People will likely be surprised by what they see,” Sepp said. “You can select from huge panoply of very questionable projects.”

One project that saw a lot of criticism was $3.4 million for an underpass in Florida to protect turtles.

Sepp said the tree planting project will likely create temporary employment at best, except on the government payrolls.

Many of the stimulus projects do not appear to be directed at long-term job preservation or creation, he said. In many cases they were aimed at quality of life or green environmental issues, Sepp said.

“It is exactly what you are going to see more of in the very near future,” he said.

An extended payroll tax holiday might be one better way to generate job retention if not job creation in the private sector, Sepp said.

The Nevada stimulus website shows that the state Division of Forestry is expected to receive nearly $4.4 million in ARRA funding, including the $490,000 for the urban tree project.

Positions either created or anticipated for the different elements of the $490,000 grant include half a dozen individuals already hired to plant bare-root, purchased trees into pots. Two positions at the state nursery were also retained with the grant. DeCorte said her position was also created by the stimulus funds. Others will include tree planters, trainers to be hired for the Spanish-speaking tree care classes, and workers for both the tree inventory and canopy analysis.

The purpose of the tree-planting stimulus project is to increase public awareness of tree benefits, provide tree-care education, involve citizen volunteers in urban forestry programs and increase tree planting.

The stimulus funding has paid for the trees, which are at the Las Vegas State Tree Nursery in northwest Las Vegas. Applications are being accepted from various entities and groups through Aug. 27. The tree planting cannot begin until the fall. The nursery sells trees to private buyers for specific types of projects, such as wildlife habitat, for $25 each for the 15-gallon size, which is the size of the trees to be used in the tree-planting effort.

DeCorte said no applications have been received yet, but several are in the preparation stages. A panel will review the applications and decide which groups should receive what number of trees, she said. The application is five pages.

The Nursery Greening Project will provide between five and 50 trees per project. If all the trees are not allocated in the first round, a second round will be implemented. Tree varieties include Chinese elm, desert willow and black locust, among others.

All tree-planting projects must be maintained for three years. Criteria used in evaluating the applications include the retention or hiring of positions, the level of increased public awareness of tree benefits, selection and care, and level of social, economic, aesthetic, environmental or education benefits to the community.

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audio clips:

GOP Assemblyman John Hambrick on the urban tree program:

070910Hambrick :9 of Southern Nevada.”

National Taxpayers Union spokesman Pete Sepp on questionable stimulus projects:

070910Sepp1 :27 what they see.”

Sepp on Clark County urban tree program:

070809Sepp2 :28 for those jobs.”

Nevada State Forester Pete Anderson in support of the project:

070910Anderson :31 of small businesses.”

Reid, Rockefeller Team Up to Extend FMAP

By Elizabeth Crum | 7:52 pm February 3rd, 2010

From Democrats.Senate.Gov:

Nevada Senator Harry Reid and West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller are working on legislation that would extend by six months the increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) that states currently receive from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In addition to ensuring coverage for children, parents, seniors, and people with disabilities, this extended funding will help states like Nevada and West Virginia retain employees and relieve state funding shortfalls. The legislation will be introduced this week.

“More than 160,000 Nevadans rely on Medicaid for access to affordable, quality medical care and this extension will go a long way toward helping the state of Nevada maintain those services,” Reid said. “In addition to helping people who need it, this funding will provide six months of relief while we continue our work to strengthen our state’s economy.”

State Controller Hires Officer to Oversee Federal Stimulus Spending

By Sean Whaley | 3:15 pm November 2nd, 2009
CARSON CITY – Nevada State Controller Kim Wallin today announced the hiring of an officer to oversee the reporting and accountability of the state’s $2.2 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Mary Keating, formerly an administrative services officer with the Department of Health and Human Services, will serve in the position and ensure the reporting follows transparency and accountability requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Keating is a former staff member for Gov. Jim Gibbons who last year filed a wrongful termination lawsuit naming the governor over claims she was forced from her job. Keating has alleged she lost her job because Gibbons thought she leaked information about his use of a state cell phone to send hundreds of text messages to a woman he described as a longtime friend. Keating at the time was overseeing Gibbons’ office expenditures as part of her position. Keating continued to work for the state after leaving the governor’s office.

“I am very happy Mary Keating has agreed to accept the position of the ARRA Reporting & Accountability Officer,” Wallin said. “Her background and wealth of knowledge in grants management, financial reporting, analysis, auditing, budgeting, internal controls and cost allocation will allow her to hit the ground running in helping the state to report and accurately account for the ARRA funds.”

Keating has 26 years of service with the state and most recently was involved in ARRA grant reporting for HHS. She is a certified public accountant. Her new position pays about $102,000 a year.