While some lawmakers say the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act isn’t helping to boost the economy as fast as they hoped, University and Ann Arbor officials say the stimulus funds greatly benefited campus and the city during Michigan’s economic downturn.
According to ProPublica, the federal government awarded Washtenaw County approximately $533 million in federal stimulus funds. Of that amount, University schools and departments got $296 million to be used for research, equipment and construction.
According to an October 2010 document provided by the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, LSA received approximately $22 million in federal stimulus funds since Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009.
LSA Dean of Budget James Penner-Hahn wrote in an e-mail interview that the majority of federal stimulus funds LSA received came from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
The stimulus money allowed LSA to hire more undergraduate and graduate students to conduct research, according to Penner-Hahn.
“These funds also supported the purchase of equipment, which has improved our research capabilities and thus indirectly impacted our students,” he wrote.
He added that the process to get funding from LSA is very competitive and most funds were granted for new faculty projects based on applications submitted by faculty members.
However, some funds were given to projects that were already in place, Penner-Hahn explained.
In 2009 and 2010, the College of Engineering was awarded six grants that totaled $50 million in federal stimulus funds, said Jon Kinsey, director of government and foundations relations for the College of Engineering.
The funds that the College of Engineering received came from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
Kinsey said the college used the stimulus funds to study alternative energy, climate change, education, health and nanotechnology projects.
In addition, the Energy Frontier Research Center received $19.5 million in April 2009. The center, which is housed in the College of Engineering, is devoted to researching new materials to more efficiently convert solar energy to electricity, Kinsey explained.
“Students benefit in many ways including the funding of graduate students, (the) use (of) new equipment purchased through the funds, new curriculum and participation in the research itself,” Kinsey said.
Martin Philbert, who will become dean of the School of Public Health on Jan. 1, said the stimulus funds allocated to the University have impacted students in his school in a variety of ways.
“Many of our students are engaged in research as part of their degree requirements or as part of a broader educational opportunity to gain relevant field experience,” he said. “Research programs funded by federal stimulus dollars have enabled the engagement and retention of a larger number of students that might not have been possible without the (stimulus funds).”
According the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the School of Public Health received approximately $40 million in federal stimulus funds, primarily through the NIH.
A Feb. 1, 2010 press release from the School of Public Health stated that the school received $17 million for diabetes research that focuses on people who are predisposed to the disease.
The Institute for Social Research was also awarded significant funding through the stimulus. According to ISR Director James Jackson, the ISR received $47.5 million in grants and contracts from the NSF. He added that $14.8 million of the total amount is being used to build a fourth wing on Division Street for the ISR.
The remainder of the money for ISF is going toward research. The Health and Retirement Survey — a bi-yearly survey that records changes in health of Americans over age 50 — will be using some of the funds to make the survey more detailed, including adding an ethnic and racial question, Jackson said.
Jackson added that the ISR will add between 100 to 300 new staff and faculty members within the next 10 years because the expansion will provide more opportunities for researchers.
By providing jobs now and in the future, ”the funds are having their intended impact,” Jackson said.
The Department of Public Safety was also granted $258,528 to install security camera systems in high-risk areas like parking lots around sports venues and University libraries, according to DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown. DPS was also granted $30,000 in federal stimulus funds to upgrade evidence and tracking systems.
“These grants allow us to further enhance our safety infrastructure and make it more efficient,” Brown said, adding that the grants allow DPS funding to continue to serve its current purpose like paying employees.
Without the funds, Brown said DPS would have had to consider cutting employees in order to fund new DPS expenses.
In addition to University schools and divisions, city and county agencies will also be using stimulus funds to upgrade existing programs and help fund new ones.
Ellen Schulmeister, CEO of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, said after the shelter received a $1.8 million grant, she was able to hire four people — three of whom were unemployed at their time of hire.
She said the money has been split in half to fund the housing divisions of the shelter.
These funds are being allocated to Washtenaw County citizens to help them afford an apartment so they won’t be forced to live in a shelter or face eviction, Schulmeister explained.
Schlmeister said the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County is able to prevent homelessness — or quickly re-house people — because of the grant it received, adding that because of the funds, the shelter was able to help more than 450 families that were evicted.
Chris White, manager of service development for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, said the AATA was allocated two grants that total $6.45 million.
The first grant — approved in August 2009 — was used to purchase four hybrid buses, construct a Park & Ride lot on Plymouth Road and make improvements to bus lots in Ann Arbor.
The second grant — approved in March — paid for a portion of the Central Campus Transit Center, additional bus storage facilities and bus stop improvements.
Washtenaw County budget manager Jennifer Watson said the stimulus funds granted to the county have also been used for community service projects, summer youth programs and job training for Washtenaw County residents.