En Español Know Your Rights
Source: New America Media
Subject: Immigration
Type: Media Coverage

Track How Stimulus Dollars Are Spent, Ethnic Media Told

NEW YORK — Twenty-five ethnic media journalists from across New York gathered
at a workshop to learn how they could keep track of how the $787 billion
stimulus dollars are being spent.

The Aug. 20 briefing was co-hosted by
New America Media, Investigative Reporters and
Editors
and the New
York Community Media Alliance.

“We, as community messengers, didn’t
know how to cover it so people didn’t even know about it,” said NAM executive
director Sandy Close. “There was no advertising money in the stimulus, so people
didn’t know.”

Close said it was through data collected by ProPublica, an investigative non-profit
news organization based in New York, that NAM was able to find out that only one
Asian American small business in San Francisco had received a federal stimulus
contract.

After giving an overview of the federal stimulus program,
ProPublica’s Michael Grabell pointed out numerous resources that could help
journalists find out how stimulus dollars were being spent in their communities.

Grabell told ethnic media journalists to be alert about the October
deadline when the first group of recipients of more than $25,000 in Recovery Act
money are scheduled to report to Recovery.gov.

“I’ve been really
fascinated to look at some of the things that we don’t really think about when
we think about stimulus money,” said Grabell, who encouraged journalists to
spend some time looking at different sites so they will be able to uncover
stories.

The panel discussions in the second and third part of the
workshop offered tips on how to watchdog collectively from different
perspectives. It largely focused on how money is being spent in New York City.

“I think it’s just very important for all of us to realize that there’s
still plenty of time and plenty of work for all of us to do to make sure that
this is shaped properly,” said Juhu Thukral, director of law and advocacy with
the Opportunity Agenda, a
communication, research and advocacy organization aimed to build broader
opportunities for America.

Thukral, who has been looking at the issue
from a civil rights perspective, said that although the administration has been
openly committed to transparency, there has been less discussion around whether
there was an equal level of public investment in different communities.

“So our goal really is to make sure the implementation of recovery and
other funds through the lens of equal opportunity,” said Thukral. “This idea of
equal opportunity is just not a good idea or a sort of hopeful moment of
transformation. It’s actually the law.”

“Transparency and accountability
are the most important no matter what issues you are working on,” noted Chris
Keeley, an associate director with the New York based chapter of Common
Cause, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization to watchdog politics. Keeley
emphasized the need to focus on the decision- making process and later on
transparency.

“We are bleeding now, we need to stop the bleeding. We need
that the money get out today, or the entire economy is going to go to hell in a
hand basket,” he said.

Victor Bach, senior housing policy analyst at Community Service Society, Bettina Damiani, a
project director at Good Jobs New York,
Earle J. Walker, executive director at Regional Alliance for Small
Contractors, and Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, participated in
the last panel discussion. They analyzed how the stimulus money affected
immigration services, small businesses and social safety nets, as well as
whether the jobs that are created as a result of stimulus dollars are good or
bad.

Bach said $500 million was offered to New York City, specifically
targeting housing and urban development. He wondered how Section 3 of HUD funds
were being used to generate jobs for low-income residents and small and
minority-owned business. Under Section 3 of the HUD Act of 1968, HUD financial
assistance should be expended for housing or community development. Economic
opportunities will be given to public housing residents and businesses in that
area.

“Over 40 years, Section 3 has been very weakly enforced at both
federal levels and local and state levels,” said Bach.

Bach encouraged
journalists to investigate whether the billions of federal dollars the New York
City Housing Authority receives each year is being spent fairly on minorities.


Ana Maria Archila of Make the Road New York
also expressed her concern
on the impact of stimulus money on immigrants.

“We know the reality even
before the economic crisis,” said Archila. She warned journalists to ensure that
contractors pay their immigrant workers prevailing wages. Some of them don’t she
said.

“That was the reality before, and that continues to be the reality
now,” said Archila.

At the end of the seminar, Close encouraged the media
participants to share story ideas.

“I especially liked the brainstorming
session when participants were asked to come up with story ideas,” said Rong
Xiaoqing, a reporter of Sing Tao Daily.
“I’m sure I’ll pursue some of the ideas that I got from the
workshop.”

“It helped give me some insight into the enormous, and pretty
confusing, stimulus effort,” said Peter Meryash, a producer for Bill Moyers’
Journal at Thirteen PBS after the
seminar.