Here’s one reason why the unemployment rate in California’s Inland Empire is stuck above 14 percent.
A San Bernardino County jobs program obtained $3.58 million in federal stimulus grants to provide local jobs and failed to spend most of the money, says state Inspector General Laura Chick.
As a result, by the end of the month the county may have to return as much as $2.6 million in unspent jobs-creation stimulus money to the federal government, Chick wrote in a report [PDF] made public Monday.
OIG photoLaura Chick
Meanwhile, 13,671 unemployed people are enrolled in the county’s “workforce system,” Chick wrote – people who presumably would be delighted to obtain one of the “subsidized employment position with private and non-profit agencies” that the stimulus money was supposed to underwrite.
Nancy Swanson, director at the county’s Department of Human Services, disputed aspects of Chick’s report. She blamed bureaucratic impedimenta for the program’s slow start.
“Our department was concerned about expanding our subsidized employment program without programmatic or budgetary authority,” she wrote.
She also said it wasn’t easy persuading local employers to hire, even when the government promised to subsidize the transaction with stimulus money.
“This hesitation by employers is not isolated to our county, but is reflective throughout California and the nation as evidenced by our respective employment rates,” she wrote.
Finally, she said that in recent months, the county’s spending on job subsidy programs had increased by 152 percent, and she denied that the county would have to give money back to the feds.
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tasked Chick with scrutinizing federal stimulus spending in California. Chick seeks to ferret out “waste, fraud and what I term stupid spending,” as she put it earlier this year.
But in the San Bernardino case, Chick said she found a case of what might better be styled as stupid non-spending.
By Chick’s account, the county spent only 27 percent, or $954,000, of the $3.58 million in federal job subsidies it received from last July through March 31.
Chick said the county’s go-slow approach was difficult to understand, given the local unemployment rate.
In a tart response to the county, Chick was dubious about the county’s claim that it had recently ramped up spending on the jobs program. She also reiterated that “any unspent federal funds will have to be returned to the federal government.”