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Accounting Error Rolls Back Stimulus Spending Numbers


Remember how we said that, judging by Vice President Joe Biden's first quarterly stimulus report (PDF), the government was going to have to seriously pick up the spending pace to meet the Congressional Budget Office's projection that $91.5 billion would be spent in the first year? Well, thanks to an accounting error by the Labor Department, it looks like it might be time to redouble the redoubled efforts.

Biden's report said that, as of May 5, $28.5 billion had already hit the ground, largely in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and unemployment benefits -- including about $11.5 billion that the Labor Department put in the unemployment trust fund. But last week, the Labor Department slipped a footnote into its spending figures that corrects an overstatement of a few ($10.4 billion) bucks. Apparently, the Labor Department has only paid out $1.1 billion to the unemployment trust fund. Labor has since gotten money out to some other programs, so the revised numbers now show a total of $8.9 billion less Labor Department spending than Biden reported.

As we noted Wednesday, the New York Times calculated that a total of $45.6 billion in stimulus funds had been spent, as of Biden's report, if estimated tax cuts were taken into account. The Times has now revised that figure to roughly $35 billion spent as of Biden's report, or less than 5 percent of the stimulus plan's $787 billion total. says that roughly $35 billion has been spent now, but without counting tax cuts. Rob Nabors, deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said Wednesday that the administration did not have estimates for the tax portions of the stimulus bill but would have some soon.

That number also doesn't reflect funds that have been made available to federal agencies for disbursement but not spent yet. Biden said in his report that because funding infrastructure projects requires more planning than, say, simply throwing money at Medicaid, it is logical that some funds, like those available to the Department of Transportation, are slower out of the gate. The Obama administration has said that quickly making the money available, even if it is not yet spent, saves jobs because businesses know the money is on the way and thus hold on to employees. A total of $126 billion in stimulus funds has been made available to federal agencies.

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