Tag Archive | "Bronx Community Health Network"

Stimulus impact on Bronx still to be seen as Bronxites are slowly hired

by Sarah Butrymowicz, Delphine Reuter and Ryan Tracy

It’s been over a year since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, pledging to use it to jump-start a faltering economy and to create and save jobs.

So far, the administration claims it has distributed upwards of $288 billion of a total of $787 billion and funded nearly 600,000 jobs. Confronted with those estimates, The Bronx Ink had one question: Did the stimulus make a difference? The answer depends on whom you ask.

Of the $184 million the government reports it has spent in the Bronx, according to the stimulus tracking Web site recovery.gov, some has had a tangible impact: employees kept their jobs, at least six construction workers were hired at a company specialized in energy efficiency, and infrastructure projects that could have taken years to start are now in the process of being completed. In other places, the money didn’t spur innovation, but it did maintain the status quo.

The South Bronx Classical Charter school’s grant covered the salary of a first grade special education teacher. No job was created there, but money was freed up to pay for things like books. At 523 Commonwealth Ave. in Soundview, a building manager didn’t realize he received stimulus funding for rental assistance until he got a form in the mail asking him to count the number of jobs his cut had created.

Overall, the Recovery funding has motivated some Bronx institutions and organizations to move quickly and secure millions of dollars in government cash, while others had more trouble to figure out what they were even eligible for. Organizations most familiar with grant application process, such as research centers, were in the leading pack. Now that the stimulus is channeled to new and old programs at a varying speed, the Bronx Ink tells the stories of five Bronx recipients and what the money has meant for them.

Bronx Community Health Network
Jobs created or saved: at least 15 and more will be leveraged
Funding received: more than $3 million
Without the stimulus: a delay of five years on six new exam rooms, at least 15 people without jobs, and no extended hours for clinical visit

The part-time psychiatrist at Comprehensive Family Care Center was worried she would have to quit her job to find full time work. But when Bronx Community Health Network (BCHN) got a $707,745 to extend the centers operating hours from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and add a Saturday shift, they had the funds to up her position to full time.

The money “was very timely,” CEO Eleanor Larrier said.

The grant was just one of three the Bronx Community Health Network received, totaling nearly $3.9 million. The recovery money allowed the organization to keep DeWitt Clinton High School Health Center staff working, develop electronic records systems at two health centers, add six exam rooms to a center and extend the hours of operation and provider capacity at two centers.

Ana Ortiz, a licensed practical nurse at DeWitt Clinton high school's health center, was able to keep her job thanks to stimulus funding.

Ana Ortiz, a licensed practical nurse at DeWitt Clinton High School Health Center, was able to keep her job thanks to stimulus funding. Photo by Delphine Reuter

The health network was also one of the handful of places in the Bronx that was able to create new jobs with the stimulus money, as well as save some old ones. In all, the organization’s grants are supporting salaries of nearly four construction positions and the electronic records implementation team. At DeWitt Clinton High School Health Center, stimulus funding was dearly needed.

David Appel, medical director of the school health program, said the clinic at DeWitt Clinton was in jeopardy of having to close due to a budget deficit. The grant made it possible for the five staff members to keep their jobs, while also hiring four additional people and extending the dental program. The dentist has about 20 to 30 patients a day, according to Amy Rowe, a nurse practitioner at the health center.

“It’s very busy here,” she said.

Appel, who administrates 16 Montefiore school health centers, three of which are part of Larrier’s BCHN, hopes that the health care bill voted in Congress in March will extend the funding that the stimulus provides today. The bill includes two provisions specifically aimed at providing school-based health centers with a grant program and access to emergency funds.

The stimulus also helped create 4.75 jobs to cover the extended hours at Comprehensive Family Care Center and Claremont Family Health Center. And, with the doors open longer, the health network will make more money, allowing them to leverage an additional 6.7 jobs.

While some of the positions are for specialists, such as a pediatrician at the high school or physician at Comprehensive Family Care Center, and could go to anyone, Larrier was confident that most of the support positions would go to Bronxites.

“These dollars are being spent here,” Chief Medical Officer Jay Izes said.

And some of the benefits of the grants can’t be measured in dollars, Larrier argued. For instance, the additional six exam rooms at Comprehensive Health Care Center will allow them to treat an additional 3,500 new patients a year. The electronic records promise to enhance the quality of service at both health centers, improving safety of patients and communication between staff members.

The electronic records project, which has been completed at one center and will be finished by August at the other, would have most likely been realized by the end of this year or beginning of next, but the rest of the projects wouldn’t have happened for at least five years, Larrier said.

South Bronx Classical Charter School
Jobs created or saved:
Funding received: $77,949
Without the stimulus: the school would have found a way to cover the teacher’s salary

Learning specialist Swahylis Acosta teaches first graders at the South Bronx Classical Charter School. Photo by Delphine Reuter

Learning specialist Swahylis Acosta teaches first graders at the South Bronx Classical Charter School. Photo by Delphine Reuter

For the South Bronx Classical Charter School, stimulus money was helpful, but didn’t change much, said Operations Manager Leena Konda. Its $77,949 grant covered salary and benefits for first grade learning specialist Swahylis Acosta, who works on the special education team with small groups of students.

Students at the school, which serves 270 students from the Bronx, are constantly given assessments. Teachers use this information to break down which students are lacking which skills, and learning specialists pull groups of about three to five out of the classroom to focus on specifics.

Recovery Act money flows through Title 1 funding – federal money that goes to help low-income and low-performing students – and can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from providing rewards and incentives to retain teachers, to hiring outside experts to help a school learn how to better analyze data, to rewiring a school to support new technologies, according to the federal Department of Education’s guidelines for using stimulus money.

But the guidelines urge schools to think about how to use the funds in a short-term way that can have a long-term impact, warning schools to avoid the “funding cliff” next year when recovery money is not available.

South Bronx Classical decided to apply for something it was sure it could retain in the coming years. Acosta has been at the school for three and a half years and her salary last year was covered by Title 1 funds. The school’s regular Title 1 funding decreased slightly this year, but Konda did not know if it was because it received additional Title 1 money through the Recovery Act. And, she noted, getting the grant freed up some money for other things, particularly books.

Even without the stimulus money, the school would have found the resources to keep Acosta on this year no matter what, Konda said, describing the position as “really necessary.”

Konda said that the grant is being used in one of the best ways possible, improving a student’s performance is through direct instruction. South Bronx Classical Charter School, a K-4 school in its fourth year of operation that will expand to K-5 nextyear, is a very technology simple school, she says.

“We didn’t want it to buy things,” she said.

Association for Energy Affordability
Jobs created or saved:
at least 6 and more will be leveraged
Funding received: almost $15 million
Without the stimulus: about 700 units would be weatherized in two years instead of a projected 2,047

Simon Hernandez got hired as a weatherization worker by the Association for Energy Affordability. (Photo by Delphine Reuter)

Simon Hernandez got hired as a weatherization worker by the Association for Energy Affordability. (Photo by Delphine Reuter)

The Obama administration’s quest for energy efficiency gave a South Bronx company specializing in insulation, its deepest challenge yet: keeping up with stimulus spending.

The Association for Energy Affordability usually receives about $2.4 million a year from a state agency to go in low-income residents’ homes and caulk their windows, replace their light bulbs, improve their A/C system, and insulate their roof. People see the difference in their energy bills, saving about $350 a year, according to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) calculations.

The DOE funneled $4.73 billion in stimulus funding to the national weatherization assistance program, which oversees buildings insulation, rising the national target from 104,000 weatherized units in 2009, to 586, 015 units over the three-year life of the stimulus, as detailed in a February report by the DOE’s Inspector General.

As a result, the Association for Energy Affordability received, on top of its yearly budget, an additional $5.8 million, and also applied for another $9 million grant that will expand its weatherization activities to multi-family housing, making AEA the second top-earner in Recovery Act funding in the Bronx – after Yeshiva University.

The stimulus funding should allow the company to weatherize at least 2,047 additional apartments and homes over two years, while also covering its regular targets. All together, it will represent at least 2,650 units – and AEA could be eligible for more funding if work is completed on time.

“We can do it,” said Francis Rodriguez, AEA’s weatherization director.

Rodriguez said the Recovery Act made AEA hire six people, including five workers and a compliance officer. As the company only started its stimulus-funded work on March 8 inside a building in Caste Hill, it could hire more workers over the next few months.

“We have space to hire in our contract but we want to make sure we do it right,” he said.

For each specific task (installation and upgrade of boiler; windows and doors; roof insulation), AEA might ask contractors to bid for the work, which could mean that other companies are creating jobs as a result of the same grants. AEA will need to report these jobs regularly to the state agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) that oversees stimulus spending for New York state’s weatherization assistance program.

All weatherization jobs created thanks to the stimulus will fall under the Davis-Bacon Act, a federal law ensuring prevailing wages to workers. AEA will have to pay its workers at least $14.54 an hour, according to a wage survey published last September by the federal Department of Labor. Usually, the pay scale in the Bronx is not that high, and tighter federal reporting standards tied to stimulus spending demand regular on-site checks and the close monitoring of what sub-contractors pay their own workers. Rodriguez called the prevailing wage his “biggest challenge” at the moment and said his company and its sub-contractors took it very seriously.

“If they found any of us cheating, that would mean prison time.”

AEA’s newly hired weatherization workers come from the Bronx, and the units the company will retrofit will be located in the borough. Only in the case of the multi-family housing grant may AEA perform work outside of the Bronx.

In the future, AEA will also take part to a stimulus-funded green jobs training program with other community organizations in the Bronx. They will receive a total of $4 million from the state Department of Labor’s “Pathway out of poverty” grants. It is yet unclear how much exactly AEA will receive.

Yeshiva University
Jobs created or saved: about 45
Funding received: more than $34 million
Without the stimulus: Researchers would have to look elsewhere for grant funding.

At Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, applying for grants is part of survival as an institution. So when federal stimulus stimulus legislation created a slew of new grant opportunities as part of $1.4 billion in additional funding to the National Institutes of Health, the university was ready for the rush that followed.

“A lot of places saw all this money. (but) they certainly had to deal with the technical aspects of submitting the applications,” said Charles B. Hathaway, director of Einstein’s office of grant support.

“Things were very rushed last spring. We were set up to do it.”

Hathaway’s office has a list of available grants. More important, the college employs an army of researchers, some of whose salaries depend on “soft funding,” or funding that requires a grant to maintain. The result of the efforts at Einstein, which Hathaway said won the vast majority of funding directed to Yeshiva, was the largest stimulus take in the Bronx: more than $34 million as of the latest government-published data.

Much of that was secured at a feverish pace, even for experienced researchers like Paul Marantz, an associate dean at Einstein. After NIH officially announced the supplemental funding last year, Marantz remembered, researchers had to write grants within about a month. Once notified they had received the funding, they had just a year to spend it.

“We’re not used to that kind of pace in academia,” Marantz said.

Yeshiva has reported about 45 jobs created or saved as a result of this funding, according to recovery.gov. The $34 million the university received also went toward research projects, career training, and renovations of research facilities.

“It’s not just jobs we create, it’s places we’re able to maintain,” Hathaway said when asked about the stimulus’ impact. “Certainly, Einstein does employ many Bronx residents.”

Marantz singled out one program – a grant of about $100,000 that Einstein used to train 10 nurses in clinical research, opening the door for them to act as “nurse investigators” in future studies about the effectiveness of various medical treatments. Ten employees from Einstein and nearby Montefiore Medical Center got the scholarships, even though the program created no jobs.

Other stimulus grants went to research projects. Einstein received $455,691 for a study exploring the ethics of genetic science, including whether a doctor ought to use information about the genes of a relative to treat other members of that person’s family. A study like that may not put low-income Bronx residents to work, but Hathaway argued that the borough would benefit from continued research at its Bronx facilities.

“Einstein’s a huge employer in the Bronx and people here go out to eat and get their cars fixed and go to Bronx businesses,” he said. “It’s generally good for the Bronx.”

Academy Gardens
Jobs created or saved:
Funding received: $2,2 million
Without the stimulus: the Bronx landlord had no reason to believe he wouldn’t have received his Section 8 funding

Stimulus funding replaced the usual rental assistance subsidies at the Academy Gardens in Soundview. (Photo by Delphine Reuter)

Like several Bronx landlords, Jason Siegel didn’t realize he got recovery money at first. The check for Academy Gardens’ $2,245,268 worth of rental assistance came in the spring. It wasn’t until the end of September when he received another letter asking him to fulfill reporting requirements under the Recovery Act that Siegel found out the money was a part of the federal bill.

Siegel is in the middle of a 20-year contract with the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department to receive Section 8 money, which subsidizes rent for the poor. The government pays landlords the difference between 30 percent of a family or individual’s income and the rent of an apartment.

Although Siegel personally has never had a problem with HUD getting him the money to round out his rent payments, the program has long been underfunded and the agency welcomed the extra money from the Recovery Act.

“HUD’s not been able to meet existing contractual obligations,” department spokesperson Andrea Mead said.

In all, the act provided $13.6 billion to the department, $2 billion of which went to Project Based Rental Assistance. All his reporting and registering requirements were waived in the end, and with no extra paper work to deal with, Siegel said all he cares about is getting the check.

“It’s just one big shell game,” he said. “I don’t care where it comes from.”

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