President Barack Obama is pitching grants to American cities that have been awarded multi-million dollar prizes in what the White House billed as finalists of the “National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC).” According to the White House website, the Obama administration is awarding “13 cities, states and counties $1 billion to help build more climate resilient communities.”
The announcement was made on January 21 at a gathering of mayors at the White House where Obama praised them, saying "Mayors can’t wait for Congress. Mayors can’t get stuck in partisan gridlock. We’ve got Republican mayors here and Democratic mayors, but frankly, if you’re a mayor, nobody cares what your party is, they care what you’re getting done."
Among Obama’s initiatives was a grant of $80 million in water infrastructure grants to Michigan, which is facing a health and political crisis over contamination in the Flint city water system. Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver met with Obama on January 19. In the past, Weaver has said that Flint would need in excess of $1 billion to replace its water system. “Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities. That's not something that we should accept," Obama told the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The largest single recipient of federal largesse is New York City, which is to receive $176,000,000. However, when the grants to the State of Louisiana and New Orleans are combined, the amount being pumped into the Pelican State soars to $233,889,818. While Louisiana has been dubbed a “Red State” because of its supposed Republican leanings, New Orleans has long been solidly a “Blue” city. Also, Louisiana just elected a Democrat to the governorship, in a signal defeat for the GOP.
In an official statement, the White House declared that it is also expanding its “Resilience AmeriCorps and Climate Action Champions” programs to the NDRC finalists, which includes funding from Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to make at least $4 million available over the next three years to more than double the current size of the Resilience AmeriCorps program. The CNCS, which is a federally-funded agency, incorporates AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps, and the Social Innovation Fund – all of which billed as forms of “national service.”
Many of the AmeriCorps "volunteers" are young people who are paid a stipend that amounts to less than minimum wage, and who are often eligible to receive Food Stamps. Some are also eligible for college tuition grants based on their service.
The cities and other jurisdictions that are to receive funding on Obama’s plan would receive assistance from Resilience AmeriCorps members. These AmeriCorps members and volunteers may also work in Obama’s “Climate Action Champions” program that was launched in 2014. The White House says that the communities thus involved would receive cooperation from the federal government and technical assistance to “leverage existing Federal resources in a meaningful way.”
The White House appeared to cast a bipartisan tone over the meeting of 250 mayors. For example, the Republican mayor Fresno CA, Ashley Swearengin, was invited to take questions from reporters in the White House Briefing Room. Swearengin paid tribute to Obama’s 12-agency Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative for contributing to downtown development, transportation and workforce development in her city. "You know, my mom and my grandmother were always big, when I was growing up, in saying, you know, give credit where credit is due, and you always tell the truth," Swearengin said. "So, it is the case that Fresno has been substantially supported and improved as a result of the work and our partnership with the Obama administration. To say otherwise would not be telling the truth."
For his part, Obama paid tribute to mayors whose cities have adopted key elements of his Democratic platform. He cited 40 cities and counties that have taken action to raise the minimum wage, and the 20 cities and counties “that are competing in our Healthy Communities Challenge to get more uninsured people signed up for health coverage,” as well as the 40 cities that granting paid family leave and paid sick leave.
While the White House gave the grants a climate-change spin, a number of the grants appear to be of the sort that the federal government has given out in the past for related public works projects and "job creation." The aid come through the Department of Housing and Urban Development as Disaster Recovery funds so as to “to recover from prior disasters in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by deploying solutions that will improve their ability to withstand and recover more quickly from future disasters, hazards, and shocks.”
The winners of the awards are offering to conduct what the White House called “innovative coastal protection and storm water management, relocation assistance for the most distressed communities, and economic development and job creation through adaptation.” Among the recipients are the State of California, which will receive $70,359,459 to recover from wildfires of 2013. The purpose is to “to support healthy, resilient forests, develop a bioenergy and wood products facility and build support centers to serve rural communities during emergencies.”
Other projects include:
“State of Iowa, $96,887,177: Iowa, which has experienced extreme flooding and torrential rainfall—both expected to increase in frequency and intensity with rising temperatures--is focused on a watershed-based approach to increase water quality upstream while sustaining its valuable agricultural economy and protecting vulnerable residents in downstream communities.
“State of Louisiana, $92,629,249: Louisiana, which has increasingly suffered from extreme weather in coastal communities, will enable a tribal community on the Isle de Jean Charles, which has experienced a 98 percent loss of land relative to 1955, to relocate to a resilient and historically significant community.
“New Orleans, Louisiana, $141,260,569: Following Hurricane Isaac in 2012, the City of New Orleans identified major gaps in resilience and risks to vulnerable communities. To address these gaps, the city is looking to reduce flood risk by incorporating green infrastructure, investing in reliable energy and water systems, restoring coastal ecosystems, expanding workforce development and create a citywide performance management program.
“New York, New York, $176,000,000: As part of the city’s policy to create a stronger, more resilient and affordable city, New York City will invest in the Lower Manhattan Protect and Connect Project to construct a coastal flood protection system. The System will increase coastal protections while also enhancing the connection between the neighborhoods and to community facilities. “State of New York, $35,800,000: In response to significant damage from extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene, New York State will invest in repairs from past damage and pilot new and innovative approaches to build resilience in low-income public housing.”