Journalists of color train to track stimulus money


Ethnic Americans say they have a far better image of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), otherwise known as the $751 billion federal stimulus package Congress passed almost nine months ago, than do Whites.

New America Media (NAM) surveyed 1,000 individuals in August and September on whether or not ARRA has helped them, and found that 84 percent of Blacks, 67 percent of Latinos and Native Americans, and 62 percent of Asian Americans think that the stimulus is good for their families or communities. Only 45 percent of Whites expressed the same view.

Overall, 54 percent of all Americans think the stimulus has helped, the NAM poll indicated.

However, since the poll results were released in October, NAM officials believe that most ethnic adults as well as Whites remain unsure of ARRA’s actual benefits. “Much of the stimulus money has not been spent,” NAM’s Aaron Glantz points out. “A third of it [is] tax cuts – you are getting it every two weeks [in payroll checks], and [many] don’t even know it. It’s not much.”

As a result, the San Francisco-based NAM, which works with over 2,000 ethnic and mainstream media organizations nationwide, received a grant from the Open Society Institute to write stories on the impact the stimulus money is having on ethnic communities across the nation. The organization last month selected 13 reporters for its 2009 Stimulus Watch Fellowship for Ethnic Media Journalists.

“This fellowship will help ethnic media journalists inform members of their communities about opportunities arising from the Recovery Act, monitor how the money is spent, and report whether their community is benefiting from the stimulus or being left behind,” announced NAM Executive Director Sandy Close.

Over 50 proposals were submitted and the competition “was extremely stiff,” said NAM Stimulus Project Coordinator Suzanne Manneh last week. She and Glantz, the project’s editor, served as facilitators of the extensive training and meetings November 12-13 at the University of California Center in Washington, D.C.

“We picked 13 fellows because they all were interested in explaining extremely crucial projects in the wake of the stimulus package, its effects in ethnic America and ethnic minority communities,” noted Manneh.

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, which was among four Black newspapers that participated in the sessions last week, will look at ARRA transportation funding in Minnesota.

Stimulus transportation money apparently is flowing “through the usual channels,” which typically don’t include Blacks, women, and persons of color, claimed Policy Link Senior Director Kalima Rose. The Oakland, California-based organization has been closely studying how ARRA transit funds have been used in many states, including Minnesota.

Linnie Bailey, who writes for the Black Voice in Riverside, California, said her stimulus reporting has two main goals: finding out who decides where the money goes and who gets it, and if the Black elderly in her community are receiving any funds. “No one speaks for those 60, 65 years and older, yet they’re taxpayers,” she said.

Charlene Muhammad is western region correspondent for The Final Call, a Nation of Islam newspaper. She will report on AARA’s impact, if any, on employment, education and housing equity issues in Los Angeles. “Getting a breakdown on the money and numbers and how to look at them was one of the things I came for,” said Muhammad.

“We had a good pool of Asian, African American and [not only] Latino [publications], but also Southeast Asian, Arab, Caribbean, Muslim, Brazilian and…eastern European publications,” said Manneh of the 13 NAM Stimulus Fellows, who last week met with various national policymakers, leading investigative reporters, policy advocates and researchers, as well as a top Obama administration official.

U.S. Assistant Labor Secretary for Policy Dr. William Spriggs challenged critics of the stimulus package. A former Howard University economics professor, Spriggs was nominated by President Barack Obama and was confirmed last month by Congress.

“People have to give us a real answer [or alternative to the stimulus] and not just [say] that they don’t like the package,” he said. “We were losing jobs at record rates when President Obama took office.”

Although Black unemployment is reported at around 15 percent, Spriggs said that it is much closer to the country’s overall jobless rate, but added, “We should not celebrate a 15-percent Black unemployment.” He compared the high unemployment rate for Whites as “1980 revisited, and for Black Americans, this is 1990 revisited.”

Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Educational Fund President Anthony Robinson told the ethnic reporters that local and state elected officials must be held accountable to ensure that stimulus dollars are properly and equally spent. However, he fears that Black-owned firms, as well as those owned by other persons of color, will be passed over for large ARRA-funded contracts as they typically are for regular large-scale construction projects.

Not all stimulus-created projects are “good” for communities of color, claimed Judith Browne, the co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group. She served as co-counsel in a lawsuit filed by Black Floridians to remedy voting rights violations related to the November 2000 election. “We have to look at the projects, and the benefits to those people,” said Browne, adding that she would like to see more ARRA funds devoted to fight systemic racism.

University of Louisville Social Work Professor Dr. Toni Miles noted that stimulus money should be used to make sure that long-term health care for adults is not severely affected – many states used the funds to shore up their budget deficits.

Ruth Perot, managing director for the National Health Collaborative, advocates that ARRA funds be used to create electronic medical records for patients. She also urged communities of color to be fully involved in seeking ARRA funds or else run the risk of getting “passed by.”

NAM, which works with over 2,000 ethnic media nationwide, will disseminate the stories produced by the fellows in the coming months to their ethnic and mainstream media partners and nonprofit collaborators through NAM’s newswire.

“I hope we can do some very good work,” noted Glantz.

“We are extremely proud and delighted to be with all of the fellows,” said Manneh.

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