Stimulus funded nearly 600,000 jobs in late 2009, recipients report

Grants accounted for most of the spending and employment opportunities, but contracts also played a part, according to the latest statistics.

Recovery Act contracts, grants and loans funded the salaries of nearly 600,000 workers during the final three months of 2009, according to data released Saturday on Recovery.gov.

More than 161,000 state, local and corporate recipients of stimulus funds filed spending reports last quarter. The data offered few surprises and generally continued trends from the first batch of recipient reports released in October 2009.

"Because of this unprecedented transparency effort, the American people are getting a look at some of the ways Recovery dollars are benefiting their neighborhoods and communities directly from the recipients themselves," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement on the new data. "Since this is a partial survey based on reports filed by recipients, we know it's not perfect or complete -- but it is providing a level of detail about a government program that has never before been made available to the public."

Most of the latest spending was through grants and went to fund jobs in education, including paying the salaries of thousands of teachers. Contracts were a significantly smaller portion and often funded jobs in transportation, infrastructure and road repair.

The use of stimulus contracting, however, is on the rise. During the first reporting period, from late February 2009 through Sept. 30, 2009, about 13,000 Recovery contracts were awarded. During the latest reporting period, that figure leapt to more than 20,000. Grants and loans also increased during the last quarter.

Most of the stimulus projects that have been funded are less than half complete and roughly one-fourth have yet to begin.

While the data release allows the public to dissect stimulus spending in a host of ways, the focus likely will remain on stimulus job creation and how the Obama administration measures employment.

Recipients reported funding 599,108 jobs from Oct. 1, 2009, through Dec. 31, 2009. Generally, the largest states saw the biggest upticks in employment, with California, which has an unemployment rate of 12.2 percent, leading the way with more than 71,000 jobs. New York, Florida, Texas and North Carolina rounded out the top five in jobs funded. Michigan -- with the highest unemployment rate nationwide, at 15.3 percent -- ranked ninth, with just over 20,000 jobs funded.

In December 2009, the Obama administration dropped its much maligned jobs "saved or created" formula, which critics suggested was subjective and impossible to verify. Recipients were asked to submit only the number of jobs that the Recovery Act funded, regardless of whether the positions were in danger of being lost.

White House officials said the change was aimed at simplifying reporting for recipients, many of whom have never had to detail their spending to the government. The first batch of spending data in October was riddled with errors, including reporting of phantom congressional districts.

The change, however, appears to have gone unnoticed by some recipients, who repeatedly referred to jobs saved or created in their latest spending reports.

And lawmakers critical of the stimulus effort still questioned the latest job figures.

"The Obama administration has thrown out so many discredited and conflicting numbers on stimulus jobs that the American people just don't believe them anymore," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "The only number that the American people care about is the 10 percent unemployment rate. The White House's efforts to tout questionable stimulus job estimates and counts have become periodic side shows that underscore their overall failure to lower unemployment."

White House officials stressed the new data reflect just a portion of the jobs that are being funded through the Recovery Act.

More than two-thirds of all Recovery dollars are directed to tax benefits, state relief and entitlement spending such as unemployment insurance. Recipients of those funds do not have to report back to the government. Indirect or induced recipients of stimulus funds, such as the supplier of asphalt for a repaving project, are also excluded from reporting.

"Some 84 percent of the Recovery Act's spending through Dec. 31, 2009, is outside of the jobs reporting requirements in the Act," the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a new report. "But there is substantial reason to believe that this 84 percent includes some of the most effective job-creation and job-protection measures, even though it would have been meaningless to mandate that the specific jobs created by these programs be tracked."

The White House Council on Economic Advisers suggested in a new analysis that the Recovery Act has funded up to 2 million jobs since it was enacted in February 2009.

In addition to the new data, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board unveiled several enhancements to Recovery.gov. The site now includes a search feature that allows unemployed Americans to look for jobs funded through the Recovery Act. And it has a new mapping capability and spending charts.

"For us, a guiding principle has been to listen to what our Web site users at all levels tell us," said Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Board. "That is why we are committed to continually making improvements to Recovery.gov."

NEXT STORY: Obama plans cuts in 120 programs

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