The Economy Today: Money Here, None There (Yet)

News from Oregon, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere

The New York Times reports that charitable giving declined last year “by the largest percentage in five decades” (a decrease of 5.7 percent, with inflation taken into account). Unsurprisingly, the study, done by the Giving USA Foundation, found that the drop in giving “accelerated in the fall, as the impact of the economic crisis and the steep decline in stock markets took hold.”

USA Today reports on “dozens of members of Congress from both parties” who are working behind the scenes to influence how the stimulus money is being spent. The legislators are calling or writing to federal agencies to ask them to fund projects in their districts or states. USA Today obtained records of contacts by lawmakers from ten of twenty-seven departments and agencies receiving stimulus money, the result of FOIA requests the paper filed in April. (Thirteen of the sixty lawmakers that the records show to have made contact with federal agencies voted against the stimulus package, according to the article.)

According to The Wall Street Journal, the supply of homes available for sale in “28 major metropolitan areas” at the end of May was down 3.9 percent from the previous month.

At the local level, the Los Angeles Times writes that, in the southern California area, home values are lower than they were twenty years ago, not even taking inflation into account. The article cites as an example home owner and aerospace engineer John Beatrice, who bought a house in $120,000 in 1989. This April, he saw a house down the block sell for about half the price.

An update on weatherization funds: In Oregon, $15 million in stimulus funds will weatherize 4,635 homes. The state, reports The Oregonian, is giving the money (a first installment, with $19 million more to come, upon successful implementation of the first phase) to seventeen community groups and five Native American tribes “with experience in getting energy efficiency measures to low income households.” Oregon, along with Arizona, Kansas and Mississippi, are the first four states to receive this round of weatherization funding.

The Rapid City Journal examines a water project in Fall River County, South Dakota, which has received $612,000 in federal stimulus funds (technically, made available as a “principal forgiveness” loan) to help complete its pipeline to the Buffalo Gap area. In anticipation of the October 1 completion date, more than seventy customers have signed up to receive district water.

Sing a song of solar chicken houses. Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware stopped by at the Solar Energy Industries Association PV America Conference in Philadelphia yesterday to bring new business to his state—by painting Delaware as a desirable destination for new solar companies. The News Journal says the governor spoke about Delaware’s double-whammy of “brainpower and manufacturing expertise” and assured solar industry leaders that his state offered an “economic climate that welcomes entrepreneurs.”

And in contrast to the construction and weatherization projects that are slowly beginning to hit the ground, The Sentinel in Pennsylvania takes a look at tied-up federal education money. (Sensing a trend yet?) “Local school districts have yet to see a penny of the more than $2.6 billion slated for Pennsylvania education,” reports The Sentinel. Federal education money has to go through the state legislature, the article notes, which means that states can’t submit a final application for it until a budget is approved by the state legislature. So with the possibility of budget talks in Pennsylvania extending past the June 30 deadline, schools, who also need to figure out their budgets by June 30, are having a more difficult time making projections for the coming year, in large part because there’s a bigger gap than usual between the low and high end of potential funds.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.