WASHINGTON - A federal program that's provided grants to more than 20 Ohio projects in the past six years is being criticized by Senate conservatives as a money-waster that promotes "pet projects."
The Economic Development Administration, founded in 1965, has issued grants in Ohio worth more than $33 million between 2006 and 2010. The program is now up for reauthorization, and it is the target of conservatives including tea party Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. He argued in aWall Street Journal column yesterday that the program "too often has used federal dollars to fund pet projects that have little relation to the national interest."
The Senate is considering whether to increase funding from $300million to $500million a year.
DeMint cited examples such as a $2million wine-tasting room and gift shop in Washington state, as well as $1.5million to promote tourism in the Northern Mariana Islands. He also argued that other EDA grants duplicate existing federal programs.
But Sen. Sherrod Brown argued that the program has been key to the recovery of devastated communities in Ohio. Among recipients of EDA grants in recent years: the former GM site in Moraine and the DHL Airpark in Wilmington. Both received EDA funding after large regional employers left.
"This isn't big government coming in and bestowing money everywhere," said the Ohio Democrat, who is proposing an amendment for the reauthorization bill that emphasizes its value to economically devastated communities.
Moraine received $187,500 to help pay for a comprehensive economic development strategy in the aftermath of losing its GM plant. Moraine Economic Development Director Mike Davis said the funds were key to helping the community secure new tenants for the vacated GM site.
The funds "really helped us overcome a devastating loss," he said. "We are a big advocate of EDA."
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