TAMPA — Eight months ago, Muquit Usama was ready to close down his commercial painting business.
As the economy tanked, the man whose company painted Tampa's Florida Aquarium suddenly found himself without enough work to stay in business and keep paying his 15 employees.
"I basically just ran out of work," Usama said. "I've always done government work. But when things slowed down, everyone who did houses went into my business and I couldn't compete with the pricing."
But thanks to the federal economic stimulus package, Usama and his workers have been busy rehabilitating public housing complexes throughout Tampa.
Usama was one of the special guests Friday at an event commemorating the one-year anniversary of the passage of the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus package has created or saved between 800,000 and 2.4 million jobs.
The legislation has brought $609 million and 590 jobs to Hillsborough County; $272 million and 168 jobs to Pinellas County; and $119 million and 71 jobs to Pasco County, according to the Web site recovery.gov.
Friday's event was held at J.L. Young Apartments, a Tampa public housing complex for senior citizens, where more than $4 million in stimulus money is being spent on renovations. The project created 14 jobs.
"We couldn't have done the things we're doing without those dollars," said Jerome Ryans, president and chief executive of the Tampa Housing Authority.
The housing agency has been awarded $62 million in stimulus money, including $38 million to begin work on a 28-acre community near downtown Tampa that will hold 667 affordable rental units, 600 market rate units as well as a grocery store, hotel and offices. Called Encore, it's on a site that once held a crumbling public housing complex.
"Improving our local housing market is one of the keys to our economic recovery," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor-D-Tampa.
But stimulus money also has helped teachers keep their jobs, funded research at the University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center, and employed people at Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Port Authority, she said.
Ron Sims, deputy secretary of housing and urban development, said that the recovery act helped avoid a depression. In addition to creating jobs, it has extended unemployment benefits and kept police officers and firefighters working.
He talked about the diversity of the United States, and praised President Barack Obama for pushing the stimulus package to bring the country out of its economic slump.
"What the president has said is we're the world's grand experiment and we will not fail," he said. "We're going to be innovative, imaginative and determined."
Karen Jackson Sims, field officer director for HUD, encouraged everyone at the event, which included housing officials from Tampa, Lakeland and Sarasota, to promote the work happening in their areas because of stimulus funding.
"If you're not telling the story about what you're doing to improve the lives of the citizens of this country, no one's going to do it," she said.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.