Pakistani-Americans Largely Unaware of Stimulus Opportunities

 

The United States of America is the land of opportunity. However opportunities are only available to those who are aware of them. And, for the most part, the Pakistani community is in the dark when it comes to the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), better known as the “stimulus package” signed into a law by President Obama in February 2009.

Little Knowledge

Pakistanis, like other immigrant communities, contribute significantly to the US economy. A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute found that in America’s 25 largest metropolitan areas, immigrants make up 20 percent of the population and are responsible for 20 percent of economic output. But Pakistani Americans -- like most other immigrant groups -- have no idea what the stimulus package is all about.

And, in this, the Pakistani community is not alone. A poll released last October by New America Media found a minority of non-white have seen signs of stimulus funds being used in their communities. Only 35 percent said the stimulus package has “allowed my state and local governments to avoid laying off a large number of teachers, firefighters and police officers.”

Only a quarter of those polled know of any new “green jobs” that have begun in their communities in the last six months, while roughly three-quarters or more of those surveyed from all ethnic and racial groups said they were unaware of any small business in their communities benefiting from a SBA loan.

“It’s hard to see stimulus package as an opportunity,” said David Kallick, the director of the Immigration Research Initiative at the Fiscal Policy Institute. A better way to look at is a government program to keep the economy from falling into a deeper recession.

“A lot of what you see in the stimulus is to an attempt to make the economy function at broader level, so, if you for example is a taxi driver, you may not be able to see what directly you are getting out of this package,” he added.

 

$400 Billion Yet to be Spent

So what’s in the stimulus package? The $787 billion Recovery Act splits the money almost equally between three areas: tax cuts, social services and infrastructure projects. So far, the Obama administration has spent $324 billion leaving more than $400 billion left to be spent.

There is “absolutely still ... a chance to catch the stimulus train,” said Lynda Turet advocacy coordinator for The Center for Social Inclusion (CSI). “Less than half of stimulus funds have been paid out, and there is still room to work with government agencies so that it gets to those who need it most.”

“Communities and advocates can work with their local elected officials and other advocacy groups who are working to make sure that the money is spent fairly,” she said. “A good place to start is to look at where stimulus funds are currently being spent that impact your community, and see what agencies are responsible for that spending.”

An interactive map showing where stimulus funds are being spent nationally can be found online at Recovery.gov, while the state of New York has its own website at > Recovery.ny.gov. One way that people can find new opportunities is by going to the City Record online which lists vendor opportunities.

The Stimulus and Immigrant Communities

Ericka D. Stalings, advocacy coordinator of The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) was not able to respond to a question that how many immigrants have been benefited from the stimulus.

“At this stage it is very difficult to say definitively if the stimulus has ‘worked’ or not for immigrant communities. What we do know is that Stimulus funding has been used to support important immigrant services, but we also know that unemployment and under employment in immigrant (as well as in other communities) communities remain problematic.”

One reason it’s difficult to tell whether immigrant communities are benefiting from the stimulus is because the government itself doesn’t track it.

For example, Michael Stamler, a spokesperson for the Small Business Administration (SBA) said that since the Recovery Act was signed into law on Feb.17, SBA had supported more than $19.7 Billion in loans to small businesses, as of Jan. 29.

“During the same period, the weekly average dollar volume in dollar terms has risen 86 percent compared to the weekly average before passage” of the stimulus package, he said.

However, Stamler could not provide any statistics when it came to immigrants and said, “At SBA, we have no data that tells us weather a loan recipient is an immigrant or not. US citizens and permanent resident aliens are eligible for SBA-backed loans, but we do not collect that data.”

“We are concerned about the federal government role in watching what’s going on. Not every project that invests money in the community of color is a good project, said Judith Browne, director of the Advancement Project, a racial justice organization.

Across the country, she said, major a projects are being launched but they do not necessarily benefit those who need them most.

“For example high speed project may be good for communities to go from one place to another but it does not mean poor members of the community of color could get jobs,” she said.

“We need to look at the projects and benefits that bring to low income communities,” she added, “not just the dollars that are going into those communities but the benefits for the communities of color.”

Programs Benefiting the Pakistani Community

While difficulty accessing business opportunities from the stimulus has been frustrating for many in the Pakistani community, the Recovery Act has provided a huge boost to every immigrant who uses the education system, rides the subway, benefits from government subsidized health insurance or received unemployment insurance.

According to Mayor Bloomberg’s Office of Operations, New York City has received over $6 billion in stimulus funding in the last year with the largest single share -- over $2 billion --- going to prevent layoffs in the city’s school system. The second largest share, $1.6 billion, has gone to prop up MediCaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, while the third largest share, $1.1 billion, has gone to support other health and social service programs.

At the state level, the stimulus package has increased the amount of money a laid off worker can collect in unemployment benefits and extended the length of eligibility for those benefits.

Pakistani American immigrants who lost their jobs due to economic recession were and are receiving these unemployment benefits. For example, Transportation Service Inc (TSI), which deals the transportation and traveling needs of the global investment firm, Goldman Sachs, laid off 27 Pakistani American dispatchers.

“All these laid off workers were happy with regards to receiving unemployment benefits,” said TSI supervisor Rao Shahbaz. The unemployment benefits, Shahbaz said, kept the workers financially afloat until TSI was able to hire them back six months later.

Muhammad Bilal Sharif and Waqar Iqbal, who were laid off from TSI said, “Although it was a bad news that we lost our jobs but the good news is that during our unemployment time, we used to receive unemployment benefits and many thanks to TSI that they hired us back.”

The website DailyFinance.com reports that more than six million workers have been unemployed for more than six months. That means the long-term unemployed represent more than 40 percent of all the unemployed - one of the highest levels ever. The average length of unemployment for this group is nearly seven months.

The payment of unemployment benefits for longer and longer periods of time adds to the deficit, and some experts worry that the high unemployment rate, plus longer time collecting jobless benefits, is a dangerous combination. The government could be on track to spend $250 billion a year on unemployment benefits alone.

It’s no surprise, then, that a new poll suggests that jobs are a top concern for many Americans. A Gallup poll shows 31 percent of those surveyed say unemployment is the most important problem facing the country today.

“The challenge we face is that president Obama inherited a record deficit,” said Dr. William Spriggs, a former economics professor at Howard University who now works as President Obama’s assistant secretary for Policy at the US Department of Labor.

But “this is the most severe recession other than the Great Depression,” Spriggs said. “When President Obama took office, job loss rate was at a record high. Now the economy is not in a free fall, it is moving in a correct direction, we are going on a path that will lead us out of it.”

Christopher Weller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, says “there is a chance” that all of this stimulus money means “job growth could improve some time soon.”

“There are number of things in the pipe line that could stimulate the economy but there is no guarantee,” he said.

“Financial crisis moved towards recessions and now we are having jobs problem. If you look on the last 12 months, policy is successful and government is playing a successful role and trying to stabilize the market,” Weller added.

“The job loss rate for the last three months (of 2009) was 180,000 jobs per month that is substantially slower than we had before, so we have slowed the job loss rate, Weller said, adding “What we need is very strong job market growth. We need to create 12.5 million jobs in the next two and a half years just to get back there where we were in the end of 2007, 7.3 million jobs have been lost so for, we probably going to loose 300,000 more jobs in the next months to come.”

“We need 12.5 million jobs by the middle of 2012 and it is certainly possible but at this point we definitely need to have a policy attention that means it should not be meant that the market is turning around, so let’s have another war. The lesson that we learned is that the policy can play an important role,” Mr. Weller concluded. ( This story, which originally appeared in the Daily Khabrain, was produced as part of New America Media’s Stimulus Watch coverage and was funded with a grant from the Open Society Institute)

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