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Leaders learn about economic stimulus

Many South Georgia government officials, business people and other parties were in Thomasville Thursday to learn more about getting a part of the federal government’s $787 billion economic stimulus package.

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop hosted the meeting at Southwest Georgia Technical College in Thomasville, Ga., one of several sites Bishop gathered a group of experts familiar with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enacted by the U.S. Congress and President Obama.

The stimulus package, designed to help America rebound from the current worldwide financial recession, allocates money for numerous purposes and designates who is eligible to receive money.

The City of Bainbridge, one of several local government agencies who hope to benefit from stimulus money, has already been awarded a $625,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation’s share of the federal money, City Manager Chris Hobby said. The grant will go toward funding the city’s Streetscape Phase II, which will begin improving the aesthetics of downtown streets and sidewalks later this year. The new grant replaces an earlier $500,000 federal grant the city received in 2005.

Bainbridge and Decatur County have also been approved for $102,000 from the Edward Byne Memorial grant program, which can be used to fight illegal drugs and gangs and other crime prevention programs, Hobby said. Bainbridge has also applied for stimulus money that would pay new police officers for a three-year period. The city has applied to get money for seven new police officers, Hobby said; Public Safety Director Larry Funderburke has said he believes his department needs five new officers.

Aranthan Jones, a policy consultant who helped draft the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, provided an overview of how the money is proposed to be spent. Jones said Obama hopes the majority of the stimulus funds will be obligated by June 17, at which time federal officials will assess if the legislation is producing economic recovery.

Some of the allocations that could benefit Decatur County and rural Southwest Georgia include: renovations to schools; partnerships to provide or improve broadband telecommunications; and improvement of highways and utilities infrastructure in rural areas.

Other stimulus aspects that could benefit many Americans include increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit and child income tax credits, deductions on sales tax for new cars, incentives for first-time home buyers, employment for veterans and at-risk youth, and programs to help small businesses, developers of low-income housing and ideas to help senior citizens, part-time workers, college students and unemployed persons make ends meet.