Ever since the Economic Development Administration unveiled its experimental formula in awarding $2 billion in public works funds to lucky communities two days before Christmas, the EDA has been weathering suits from some of the unlucky communities.
The EDA at the moment is winning, or has won, in the six suits filed in four states to date. The most recent victory was the refusal of a federal judge in Boston Thursday to grant a restraining order reguested by 13 Massachusetts cities to block the disbursement of $52 million to 33 other communities in the state.
In complaints similar to those filed in New York. New Jersy, and Michigan, the Massachusetts cities left out of the program charge that the formula used by the EDA favors small towns where unemployment rates are technically high but the number of persons out of work is low. They say this goes against the congressional mandate to create jobs in economically hard-hit areas.
"It looked like a Utopia in the beginning and ended up as a disaster," said Quincy Mayor Joseph A. LaRaia, a leader in the suit.
"It started out as a political decision and ended as a political decision," he charged, referring first to the congressional override of President Ford's veto of the jobs bill last summer, and then to the predominantly Republican nature of many of the small towns in Massachusetts that won the public works awards.
Quincy, for instance, is an industrial city of 80,000 which suffers 8.6 per cent unemployment, or 3,560 people out of work, according to city officials. It received nothing from EDA.
The population of Upton is only about 3,500, but it has a 19 per cent unemployment rate. It received $1.6 million.
Perhaps the most unusal case concerns the Mississippi village of Mound Bayou, population 2,400, which received $4.9 million, or almost half of that state's total allotment. John Eden, outgoing assistant secretary of commerce and head of the EDA, said the grant was an error and that the EDA is negotiating with the town fathers to reduce the grant.
Other than that case, however, Eden said that he is "entirely satisfied that what we have accomplished is an absolutely fair and objective system." He recommended in congressional hearing last week that it be repeated for a $4 billion jobs program under consideration.
The formula weighs unemployment rates, number of unemployed, per capita income and other factors in ranking communities to receive grants. "Benchmarks" were added to the formula to limit the amount awarded to large cities such as Boston and to metropolitan regions.
Eden claimed that the unemployment in the communities receiving the grants averaged 12.3 per cent. The national rate for December 1976, was 7.8 per cent.
The formula was an experimental one created on 4 tight time schedule. The money was appropriated by Congress Oct. 1. more than 25,000 applications were received by Dec. 9. and almost 2,000 grants were awarded Dec. 23, all of which are scheduled to begin construction by Arpil.
"Never has a program of this magnitude been run in this short time," Eden said.
The EDA opened itself to the suits by ranking the applications by how much the communities deserved the money, he said, putting little weight on what kind of project the money was going for.
"It's really a question of whose ox is gored," said EDA assistant chief counsel Robert S. Fastov, who has been arguing the court cases.
In denying the restraining order, U.S. District Court Judge Frank J. Murray ruled that it was not warranted because the suit had little chance to succeed and because blocking the funds would cause "monumental harm" to unemployed persons, regardless to where they live.
Here and in four of the other cases, the requests for preliminary injunctions are still pending.