The Economy Today: Local Agencies Suffer

Headlines from Montana, West Virginia, California, and elsewhere

In national news this morning, The New York Times predicts that the results of the bank stress tests, which are due to be released this week, “may bring more hope than fear” because, overall, the banks are doing better than expected. Meanwhile, in Arizona, West Virginia, and California, service agencies are short on cash and high on demand as the recession forces residents to seek help.

Obama’s transparency kick is rubbing off in Montana. According to the Billings Gazette, the city council plans to broadcast its budget hearings over local access television. And some one hundred protesters gathered in Missoula for a May Day demonstration last Friday. One protester closed her bank account at a Wells Fargo branch, and then chanted “Bail us out!” with the rest of the group.

Foreclosures are helping to grow the ranks of the homeless in Florida, the Tampa Tribune reports. Inquiries to organizations are growing, but help is on the way. Social service agencies are adding beds at local shelters, and providing transitional housing. And, on the other side of the wealth spectrum, boaters are complaining that ethanol-blended gasoline—which will be mandatory in the state by 2010—is “wreaking havoc” for boaters. Since boats sit idle for long periods of time, the blend separates, and pure ethanol can corrode engine components.

The Californian has two stories of pinching pennies. First, non-profits short on funds are “getting creative” in the face of decreased donations by applying for more grant money and cutting non-essential staff. In the case of the Red Cross, “staffers now have to mop the floors and clean the toilets.” It’s prom season, and local schools are trying to make the event more affordable. Prom tickets have been discounted, and more competitive vendors were chosen to provide services like photos and venues. Also, “Boys may don suits instead of tuxedos. Girls are wearing cocktail dresses instead of full-length designer gowns.”

West Virginia service agencies may see substantial cuts, according to the Charleston Gazette. Addiction recovery programs and group homes are on the chopping block if the $2.5 million shortfall cannot be met. A historic property will change hands in Charleston. The Greenbrier Hotel filed for bankruptcy, and will become a Marriott. The hotel’s unionized workers approved the deal.

The Burlington Free Press offers two local plugs this morning. First, a real-estate agent who calls himself the “Condo Guy” says he can help families find affordable housing and save money. And Burlington also held its third annual mower swap. Local residents exchanged old gas-guzzling mowers for deeply discounted greener models.

A now-familiar story from the Arizona Daily Sun: Local community agencies are slammed by requests from people who never sought help before. And short-staffed, under-funded agencies may not be able to keep up with the demand. The Associated Press presents a “day in the life of the recession,” looking at the numbers—bankruptcy, foreclosures, etc—and a few personal stories of couples losing homes, jobs, and hope.

And, in closing, the St. Louis Dispatch wins the day for the best headline: “Pay freeze remains a bear necessity at Build-A-Bear.”

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Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.