Washington, D.C. – At its meeting today, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Board of Directors held one of the first regional discussions of the stimulus package, weighing options for getting the greatest return on the federal investment. The Board heard expert testimony from researchers and professionals on issues addressed in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that are of major importance to the metropolitan Washington region, including economic recovery, transportation, energy and climate change, and housing and community development.
The Board asked COG staff to determine a set of priorities in which regional collaboration and action through the ARRA will be most effective. Providing home weatherization services and investing in transit oriented development are two examples of such efforts. The Board also requested that COG staff develop an action plan – to be brought before the Board at its April meeting – that provides a regional approach to programs aimed at neighborhood stabilization and homelessness prevention. Furthermore, COG vowed to take on the role of a regional clearinghouse, providing data coordination and information assistance for its member jurisdictions as they work to efficiently and effectively leverage stimulus funds.
Amy Liu, Deputy Director for Greater Washington Research for the Brookings Institute, said that although the amount of funding provided by the ARRA is significant, the law’s requirement for speed and its reliance on previously existing formulas “will likely stifle regional solutions.” Liu did note however, that there were a number of opportunities for regional coordination including assisting neighborhoods affected by foreclosure and discretionary transportation funds. Human capital programs, especially those aimed at workforce training and placement in fast-growing industries – such as renewable energy – will be key to the region’s continued competitiveness, Liu said.
Margery Turner, Vice President of Research at The Urban Institute, echoed Liu’s primary concern, saying, “Business as usual could seriously dilute the impact” of the ARRA. However, Turner also argued that the Neighborhood Stabilization Program could be a very effective avenue for regional cooperation, especially through efforts aimed at homelessness prevention, which crosses the many jurisdictional boundaries of the region.
Board members and presenters made numerous references to COG’s role in assisting local governments in the region implement and monitor programs and projects funded by stimulus dollars. “Regional leadership from COG will be essential in making these efforts possible,” Turner told the Board.
Turner’s focus on affordable housing was also voiced by Clarence J. Snuggs, Maryland’s Deputy Secretary of Housing and Community Development. “The ARRA is not an answer itself to more than 10 years of irrational exuberance, both in this region and the nation at large, but it can help, especially in the need for affordable housing.” Turner also voiced her concern that greater attention be paid to affordability. “In this crisis, more than ever, a connection between affordable housing and homelessness has been made clear,” she said.
The ARRA, which President Obama signed into law in February, is a $787 billion stimulus package comprised of federal spending and tax cuts aimed at reviving the nation’s economy and saving or creating millions of jobs.