County officials today circulated a letter to the media and local social services organizations defending their decision not to apply for federal stimulus dollars to create a subsidized jobs program.

Nick Macchione, county Health and Human Services Agency director, reiterated the agency’s stance (as we included in Monday’s story) that the county didn’t apply for the funding due to timing and risk.

Macchione said before deciding not to apply for the subsidized jobs program we’ve been writing about this week, county staff participated in more than 30 phone conferences and meetings with state officials and county representatives to try to get more information. He said the program required a significant contribution of local dollars and it “presented us with a challenging timeline for program implementation.”

Here’s Macchione’s statement:

HHSA carefully evaluates grant opportunities for overall benefit and to ensure that requirements are well-defined and the County’s financial contribution is clearly stated. Without clear and consistent guidelines from the State, the County could not assume significant financial risk and possible return of the money. This could have had an adverse impact to County taxpayers and services.

In the letter, Macchione highlighted a few examples of the Health and Human Services Agency receiving Recovery Act stimulus money, including:

* $55 million for the county’s social services programs including foster care, adoption, public health, food stamps administration, and aging services.

* $5.4 million of that is “being used, in part, to help low-income and unemployed individuals with job placement and other activities to help with job placement and other activities to help people go to work.”

Macchione also said that in partnership with the San Diego Workforce Partnership, a local nonprofit job training organization, the county obtained other funds to keep a summer employment program for disadvantaged youth going this year. And the county is applying with the Workforce Partnership to get a $25 million grant to train welfare for families recipients for health jobs.

The letter references an April report by State Inspector General Laura Chick that was critical of the state’s Department of Social Services oversight of the program for the 47 counties that did apply.

Chick said in our story Monday she was “shocked” that San Diego County didn’t apply, and outraged that the decision was not made by the elected supervisors.

But Macchione said that Chick’s report adds more reason for skepticism of the program.

“Although other counties may have taken the risk to pursue the [subsidized jobs stimulus] funds without the necessary clarity from the State, we did not want to put the County of San Diego and its taxpayer dollars at risk,” Macchione said.

He said the county will be watching the decisions federal lawmakers make about this program in the future, in case there are clearer guidelines and the county can take advantage of the funds then.

— KELLY BENNETT

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