How many jobs does $36.6 billion buy?
That was the question many were hoping to answer as the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board released reports detailing how and where stimulus dollars were being spent. According to data released on Friday, the answer is roughly 640,000, with the White House claiming closer to one million.
Since the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed in February, just over $36.6 billion has actually made its way to state and local recipients in the form of loans, grants and contracts. But many stimulus projects are in various stages of completion and most of the money awarded has yet to be spent.
Little more than one-fifth of the money awarded to state and local governments has been spent, according to data available on Recovery.gov. Furthermore, just over thirteen percent of all the money set aside for contracts, grants and loans, for the life of the stimulus, has been spent. And nearly half of all projects underway are “less than 50% complete,” with seven percent (4, 110 of the nearly 57,000 projects) deemed “complete.” Still, White House officials say the first round of reporting indicates the stimulus is working and that Obama administration targets are being met.
“These reports are strong confirmation that the Recovery Act is responsible for over one million jobs so far and we are on-track to create and save 3.5 million jobs through the Recovery Act by the end of next year,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House Friday.
The White House contention is that 640,000 jobs were created or saved as a direct result of the federal government having “contract authority,” to hire for projects. But when tax cuts, small business lending, entitlements and indirect jobs (e.g. suppliers for stimulus projects) are considered, over a million jobs have been created by the Recovery Act since February.
In a related report (.pdf), the White House also said that stimulus money was going, in large part, to those states who needed it most. The report claims that the five states with the highest unemployment before the Recovery Act was passed, received more money – and have seen more jobs created per capita – than the national average. Additionally, due to extended unemployment benefits and increased payments, more indirect jobs were created than could be captured in the recipient reports that were released on Friday.
In addition to the jobs report, Recovery.gov itself was the focus of much attention. Recovery Board Chairman Earl E. Devaney announced new features that allow users to search with more detail, summarize state and territory spending, and download data in XML and XLS formats.
“I’ve often said that Recovery.gov is a work in progress and will only get better as we continue pressing to develop a premier government website,” Mr. Devaney said in comments posted to Recovery.gov. “Quite frankly, we are listening to our users, and are making changes and adding new features as fast as we can.”
In a blog posting Friday, OMB Watch Senior Policy Analyst of Federal Fiscal Policy Craig Jennings agreed there is room for improvement – praising the summaries page, but blasting the search and data download functions.
“Bottom line: the new functionality moves the ball forward and we are getting a better Recovery website. Of course we’d like to see more, but things are moving down the field,” Mr. Jennings wrote.