Obama Lends Cities A Helping Hand, Warns Against Waste

Mayors voice concern about funds distribution, federal-local relationships

departments, whether it’s transportation, energy, HUD, commerce or others, to see that the stimulus plan is working and doing what needs to be done.”

He believes the Office of Urban Affairs will provide much-needed oversight to “recognize and handle problems quickly so they can change what’s not working and strengthen what is.” And, Palmer adds, while his Republican counterparts may not say so on the record, many of them agree.

But Palmer and others worry that stimulus funds, most of which won’t be disbursed directly to their cities, could get bogged down state government bureaucracy or allocated to projects that they don’t believe will create sustainable jobs or help the people who need it most. This past weekend, a handful of governors said they’re considering passing up the money.

According to Margaret Simms, an economist at the Urban Policy Institute, some might argue that the United States hasn’t had any real urban policy in a long time. During the early ’60s and early ’70s, a period considered to be the height of urban policy, she says, the federal government provided a lot of funding directly to localities, which enabled them, in turn, to allocate those funds in ways they believed more fairly and appropriately addressed their needs and in a more time-effective manner. “State officials would argue differently, but localities see their best chances for progress coming from a direct federal/local relationship,” Simms says.

Her advice to the nation’s mayors is that they decide, as a group, on a few top priorities and primary concerns to work on with the Office of Urban Affairs, so there’s a coherent and consistent voice about their needs.

“I think it’s really important that people look at where we are now. We don’t know whether [the stimulus package] will be effective, whether more will be needed, or whether the stimulus package will basically displace some other programs’ specific initiatives,”  Simms says. “So asking for lots of different things probably isn’t going to work. That approach would be more effective than every mayor or every small group of mayor’s talking about their problems. Priorities will have to be set.”

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