(This new blog, by Kelly Thomas, will track stimulus spending on and around the Northside. The process is complicated, involving dozens of agencies at various levels of government. But The Northside Chronicle will sort through the mess for you. This is the first of many installments.)

The federal government wants its $787 billion economic stimulus fund used wisely. It also wants itself, along with every state, county and local government held accountable for how the money is spent. This blog will look at how stimulus money is spent on the Northside and in other parts of Pittsburgh.

According to Chuck Half, manager of Pittsburgh Management, Performance and System, it is difficult to know exactly how much of Pittsburgh’s stimulus money will come from the $16 billion the state received from Washington, and how much will come directly from the federal government.

A major problem in determining exactly how money will be spent in specific neighborhoods like the Northside comes from the federal government’s direct distribution of money to non-profit organizations, Half said.

While the city has an idea of how much money it will receive from Pennsylvania and Washington, it has not yet received all of the funds. Out of the money it has received, not all of it has been distributed to individual projects yet.

So far the city has approved the use of approximately $43.8 million in projects, according to the PittMAPS stimulus tracker. The county overall has received approximately $377.3 million in federal money, according to its Web site.

Half said there are two major ways to acquire stimulus money from any level of government. One of them is by applying for grants or contracts on specific projects. The government also awards money to companies who were already doing the kinds of work the stimulus plan targets, such as rehabilitating houses and updating infrastructure.

Because of the way the government distributes the money, the Northside could get money directly from the federal government, directly from the state or from Allegheny County. There are also programs that will help a wide range of communities, such as expanded unemployment benefits.

The federal government uses 11 budgeted categories to track and distribute stimulus money while Pittsburgh uses six. Each category targets a specific problem, such as infrastructure, energy and job development. So, a Pittsburgh non-profit that wanted money to hire an extra person would have to apply for money from the workforce development and education fund. Once all the money from that fund has been used, no more companies would be able to receive money for that purpose, even if there is money left in another category’s budget.