- The Washington Times
Friday, April 24, 2009

President Obama’s stimulus bill was supposed to spend money to create jobs, but four of the top 10 recipients of per capita grant aid to date have the lowest unemployment rates in the country and nearly all are below the national average.

And some of the places receiving the most money per capita are U.S. territories whose residents don’t pay federal income taxes: American Samoas $759 per resident is more than any other U.S. state or territory. The U.S. Virgin Islands is third on the list and Puerto Rico is fifth at $529, or 30 percent more than the $407 per capita received by Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment in the nation.

Meanwhile, North Dakota, with the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 4.2 percent, compared with the nations 8.5 rate, and Wyoming, with the second-lowest unemployment, each have received $498 per resident in grant aid from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to an analysis by The Washington Times.

The recovery act was signed into law two months ago and the numbers are an early snapshot of who is benefiting the most. The grant figures come from Recovery.gov, the government’s official Web site set up to track recovery spending. The population figures are from 2008, and the unemployment data are from the Labor Department’s April report, covering through March 2009.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom Mr. Obama put in charge of overseeing the recovery act, said the numbers do not include unemployment benefits or funding from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families - both programs likely to help those states with the most needy.

“This biased and flawed analysis excludes many of the funds that are targeted directly at areas of high unemployment. When one looks at the Recovery Act as a whole - and not selectively, as this analysis does - it reflects a comprehensive effort to help get our economy moving again, in all parts of the country,” said Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth A. Oxhorn.

But the numbers do include early spending that was designed to help states keep public employees on the payroll, pay for education programs, help build or refurbish public housing and dozens of other categories of spending - projects designed to create or save jobs, which was a key goal of the legislation.

The grants so far allocated on the Recovery.gov Web site account for $118.6 billion in spending, out of the $787 billion price tag for the bill.

Of the $787 billion, $288 billion is expected to go toward tax relief, $144 billion to state and local fiscal relief, $111 billion to infrastructure and science spending, $81 billion to assistance to the needy, and the rest to health care, education and Mr. Obama’s green energy projects.

The states with the lowest per capita grant aid so far are Colorado, at $321 per resident, and Virginia, at $324 per resident.

Both were optimistic they will change those numbers as more grants are issued.

Myung Oak Kim, spokeswoman for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr.’s economic recovery team, said Colorado expects “to fare well with large competitive grants in education, the New Energy Economy, broadband and health information technology. Colorado also has many federal research labs and other facilities that should receive significant ARRA funds.”

“Governor Bill Ritter and his staff will work hard to make sure the people of Colorado get the most benefit possible from the recovery act. We and our congressional delegation will also fight to make sure Colorado gets its fair share of funds,” she said.

Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said he is confident the funding will even out and said Virginia will eventually get $4.8 billion, not including extra unemployment benefits and tax cuts going to state residents.

“From our perspective, the money is either on the way or a bunch of it has been received,” Mr. Hickey said. “Things are moving along as expected, and thank goodness for the recovery act.”

The stimulus bill has been a source of contention since well before it passed. Democrats said the infusion of cash over 18 months would help lift the economy and provide up to 4 million jobs, while Republicans said it was too heavy on spending and would lead to waste.

Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus in the House, said unemployment is still rising, which proves the stimulus bill failed.

“The president promised the American people an urgent recovery when he robbed future generations of more than $1 trillion. Yet because of his flawed approach, the president’s plan has offered nothing but deeper economic misery,” Mr. Price said. “With the job market showing only signs of further deterioration, it is time to employ a new method. This big-government philosophy is incapable of providing the sustainable prosperity the American people seek.”

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ chief watchdog agency, on Thursday released a report saying that states are feeling overwhelmed with the money. The report says Congress failed to give states the leeway to spend some of the stimulus money on administrative costs associated with accountability and reporting back to the federal government.

The report detailed the slow pace of states to sign agreements allowing money to be spent, or to get federal aid for their own fiscal stabilization funds.

Also, figures this week from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee show that so far, just 1,285 jobs have been created or saved in the states from infrastructure spending, or an average of 25 per state. Only a dozen states have hired for infrastructure projects so far, and the majority of all infrastructure jobs so far are in Texas, which has funded 704 positions.

The top states and territories in terms of per capita grant aid so far are American Samoa at $759, the District of Columbia at $738, the U.S. Virgin Islands at $603, Alaska at $599, Puerto Rico at $539, Rhode Island at $529, Vermont at $516, North Dakota and Wyoming at $498, New York at $492 and Nebraska at $456.

Excluding the three territories, the District and the nine states have an average unemployment rate of 7 percent. That’s less than other states as divided by per capita recovery act grant funding.

Michigan, with the highest unemployment rate, ranks 19 on the list of states getting per capita funding, while Oregon, with the second highest unemployment rate, ranks 16.

After Colorado and Virginia, the states receiving the least per capita grant aid so far are Utah, Florida, Nevada, Georgia, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina and Kansas.

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