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Public Works And CHERP - What The Hoover Dam Can Teach Us

In times of economic strife, interventions by governments, private agencies, and public entities serve vital functions. Through relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts, individuals and groups find much-needed financial assistance and opportunities for employment. Alongside these monetary benefits, participants find a sense of belonging, take ownership of their surroundings, and expend energy on projects and activities that benefit their communities.

In response to the Great Depression, the best-known and paradigm-shifting example of this phenomenon in American history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his administration introduced a series of programs to stimulate the economy. The New Deal was multifaceted, rolled out in phases, and changed the social, economic, and governmental landscape of the time. It also demonstrated how work projects could unite individuals in a seemingly self-contained action that ultimately expanded its influence beyond imagination.

Prior to Roosevelt’s New Deal, however, President Herbert Hoover had endorsed a similar concept. One of his efforts focused on the construction of a dam along the Colorado River. Now known as the Hoover Dam, the project commenced in 1931 and, over the subsequent five years, boosted the local economy, put thousands of skilled and unskilled laborers to work, and achieved momentous feats of engineering. Longer term benefits from Hoover Dam - cheaper energy, flood control, irrigation, and tourist revenue - would be felt for decades to come.

During the five years it took to construct the Hoover Dam, an average of 3,500 men were employed for the project. At the height of construction in June 1934, 5,218 men found work at the damsite. According to the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the average monthly payroll was $500,000.

As individuals found work, the region experienced great gains. The construction of an entire town to house government and construction workers alike - Boulder City, Nevada - accompanied new roads, railroad lines, and power lines throughout the area.

As work on the Hoover Dam continued during the early 1930s, FDR became president to a nation facing widespread under- and unemployment. In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt made it clear how he hoped to combat the economic depression in the United States:

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our national resources

To accomplish this task, the Roosevelt administration rolled out an alphabet soup within the New Deal program. Entities like the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law on March 25, 2020, harkens back to this tradition. Payouts to individuals, tax extensions, loan programs, and unemployment insurance are a few of the areas addressed by the CARES Act. According to the CARES Act, nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to receive small business interruption loans aimed to promote continued activity.

CHERP’s mission and activities remain in the spirit of programs supported through legislation like the CARES Act. Projects undertaken as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, such as the Hoover Dam, demonstrate the types of programs that provide immediate benefits while sparking change on a grand scale. Comparable to the federally funded projects overseen by Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt, CHERP offers opportunities for employment, community building, and global change.

CHERP’s first factory, slated to open in 2020, will create nearly 800 direct and indirect jobs in manufacturing, construction, installation, and other solar-related fields. As more and more factories come to fruition, those new jobs will appear over and over again.

The creation of new jobs accompanies CHERP’s large-scale economic benefits for low- and middle-income households as they gain access to more efficient and affordable energy production and consumption. The initial 6,000 solar systems created by CHERP will reduce energy costs, placing an estimated $6.5 million of disposable personal income into low- and middle-income households. As this revenue feeds into the local economy, it simultaneously increases the annual net tax-based revenue for Pomona and the state of California.

As the Hoover Dam offered hope through the economic crisis of the Great Depression, CHERP provides a beacon of light in these uncertain times.


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