Agency stimulus spending slightly higher than predicted

The top spenders of stimulus money over the past three years are the Health and Human Services, Education, and Treasury departments, according to a Congressional Budget Office blog post Thursday.

CBO's purpose in evaluating progress on the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was to compare its own estimates done soon after the law's passage against actual agency outlays as of September 2011. It concluded that total spending under the act -- $494 billion over three years -- was $20 billion, or 4 percent, higher than CBO's original projection.

"The higher than anticipated spending resulted primarily from the costs of two programs that were noticeably affected by economic developments that differed from projections: unemployment-related benefits administered by the Department of Labor, and nutrition assistance administered by the Department of Agriculture," analysts wrote in the post.

CBO was closest in its projections for spending by the Treasury, Transportation and Energy departments, it said. After HHS, Education and Treasury, the next highest-spending departments were Labor and Transportation. The modest gap between estimates and actual spending was attributed in part to lower than expected food prices and higher than expected spending on unemployment benefits.

Programs accounting for the lion's share of stimulus act spending -- which peaked in 2010 and has slowed considerably -- included "temporary authority for assistance to states through increases in the federal matching rate for Medicaid spending and for education-related expenses, payments to individuals in the form of refundable tax credits, increased funding for unemployment compensation, and increased funding for transportation and other infrastructure projects," CBO said. About 78 percent of the stimulus law's funds had been spent as of September 2011.

CBO's latest update on the long-term budgetary impact compiled one year ago, puts "the cumulative impact of [the Recovery Act] at $821 billion over the 2009-2019 period, reflecting $637 billion in spending increases and $184 billion in revenue reductions," the blog post stated.

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