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Monday, May 24, 2010

Economic Development Administration: A Review of Elements of Its Statutory History

Eugene Boyd
Analyst in Federalism and Economic Development Policy

As the 111th Congress considers legislation reauthorizing the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965 (PWEDA; P.L. 89-136), which created the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and its programs, the PWEDA's statutory evolution may inform Congress in its deliberation. In reviewing the evolution of the PWEDA's statutory authority, several observations are worth making: 

• Congress has consistently used unemployment as the primary criterion to determine eligibility for EDA assistance, but it has authorized the inclusion of other criteria, resulting in up to 80% of counties being deemed eligible for assistance. 

• Although Congress has cast a wide net in terms of the criteria for EDA eligibility, it has remained focused on a singular mission: supporting private sector job creation in economically depressed areas primarily through the financing of infrastructure projects, including technology enhancements. 

• Congress has continued to promote multi-jurisdictional regional planning as a core activity in support of EDA's job creation mission. 

• The use of EDA public works-based assistance as an anti-recession tool has generally been opposed by some in Congress and viewed as slow and costly in generating jobs for the unemployed during a recession. 

During its 45-year history, EDA has evolved from a cluster of programs targeted primarily to rural communities experiencing long-term economic depression to an agency that has also been called upon to target assistance to urban areas and to address issues confronting communities experiencing sudden economic dislocation caused by factory shutdowns, foreign competition, base closures, and disasters. Although Congress initially approved legislation that used unemployment rates as the primary determinant of eligibility, it has also used per capita income and other criteria to qualify areas for assistance. Supporters contend that this allows EDA to be responsive to areas experiencing population outmigration, natural disasters, natural resource depletion, military base closures, the sudden loss of manufacturing jobs, and other special needs, while detractors contend that this broad targeting has diffused the agency's resources. 

As the programs of EDA evolved, Congress enacted legislation that standardized matching fund requirements among programs, simplified the application process, encouraged regional cooperation, established performance measures, and provided additional performance-based funding to grant recipients. The 1998 amendments standardized the federal cost share at 50% of a project's cost, but allowed EDA to provide supplemental assistance to increase the EDA contribution to no more than 80% of a project's cost. The 2004 amendments allowed EDA to waive completely the cost share requirements based on an EDA finding of insufficient taxing or borrowing capacity. 

In an effort to encourage regional cooperation, Congress conditioned the receipt of public works and economic adjustment assistance on the development and implementation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and required each grantee's CEDS to be consistent with local and district plans. Congress also directed EDA to award additional funds for outstanding performance in the execution of grant activities. Most recently, with the passage of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5), Congress returned to the practice of using EDA assistance as a countercyclical tool.

Date of Report: May 19, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R41241
Price: $29.95

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