By Amy Hanauer and Roberta Garber

The just-passed federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will relieve need and help halt the economic hurricane that is devastating Ohio. The stimulus provides a long-overdue chance to make a down payment on a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable Ohio, something our organizations have advocated for years. Smart targeting and good oversight will ensure that the stimulus funds do the most to revitalize Ohio communities.

Stimulus resources offer new hope for Ohio. The plan includes funding for renewable energy investments, home repair and weatherization, worker training for the jobs of today and tomorrow, infrastructure improvements, and pre-school programs. These will provide immediate spending and put Ohioans back to work, which is crucial in this downturn, but they also represent long-term investments in a stronger economy.

Trained workers will better meet the skill needs of employers and be more likely to earn enough to support their families; children who have attended preschool will require less remedial education; weatherized homes will use less energy and save families money; and improved public transit and infrastructure will attract new economic development to Ohio’s urban and rural core communities.

The stimulus funds offer new opportunities to rebuild Ohio sustainably by creating quality local green-collar jobs, training workers for the renewable energy economy, and incorporating standards of energy efficiency in development. All of these will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil.

As Ohio prepares to spend stimulus resources, we want to point to a number of principles that the state should embrace to ensure that the spending is effective, efficient, accountable, and green. Doing so will generate the maximum return in the form of jobs, income, and a more environmentally sound Ohio.

First, Ohio needs to effectively target the stimulus by:

• Creating jobs that pay a family-supporting wage and provide benefits such as health insurance; • Ensuring that the programs and jobs help those with low skills and low incomes to advance economically; • Investing in infrastructure projects in distressed communities and giving residents a shot at the jobs; and • Supporting training for good jobs that are likely to grow in the future

Second, with the public sector getting a chance to invest in what matters at a scale not seen in our lifetimes, it is essential that we track the spending so that we can expand what is working well, redirect what isn’t working, and measure results. Federal transparency on the bill will be strong, and Ohio should follow suit.

Efficiency and accountability demand that Ohio:

• Allocate spending to meet specific goals, including creating and saving jobs and expanding opportunities for low-income Ohioans; • Use a competitive process, where applicable, in awarding contracts to increase fairness and maximize choice; • Require contractors and agencies to report regularly on spending and measure progress toward specific goals; and • Coordinate spending among state and local agencies to ensure efficiency

Finally, Ohio should also adjust state policies to take advantage of all federal stimulus funds. This means modernizing our unemployment system to meet the criteria to draw down the maximum available federal funds and increasing outreach to make sure that eligible Ohioans can get federal benefits, such as child care, the earned income tax credit, food stamps, and free tax preparation.

The Recovery Act gives Ohio a chance to put more than 100,000 Ohioans back to work. It also provides a unique opportunity for Ohio to adopt policies that target investment to needs that have been long neglected. As Ohio emerges from this difficult economic period, we will be here to support the state in its recovery efforts and to track the role that these investments play in fixing our economy in the areas where it is needed most.
Hanauer is the executive director of Policy Matters Ohio. Garber is the executive director of Community Research Partners.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Ohio Forum. 3/09

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