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Are Minorities Getting Their Share of the Stimulus Dough?

Today’s roundup of stimulus coverage:

As stimulus money continues to be distributed, minority-owned businesses are feeling overlooked, Time magazine reports. The administration notes that 15 percent of federal contracts have gone to minority businesses. But we reported recently that most of those have gone to Native Americans and only 5 percent have gone to blacks and Hispanics. Time’s Tim Padgett reports that the reason many minority businesses have been overlooked is that states are spending the most money on large, “shovel-ready” projects, which means it tends to go to larger, predominantly white-owned construction contractors. Most money is distributed through states and counties, and Padgett reports that minorities fair best when the funds come through the county.

Stimulus money for crime-fighting has gone to police and sheriff’s departments based on location rather than need, reports USA Today. More than $77 million has been given out by the Justice Department to 200 police agencies, and often the decision has disregarded the urgency of their need because of an old law that requires money to be distributed in every state. For example, Houston requested money to hire 260 officers, but got nothing, despite a score of 90.4 on a Justice Department ranking system. But Boise, which scored 58.5, received funding because it was the only applicant from Idaho.

In Rhode Island, banks are shunning stimulus loans for small businesses, reports TheProvidence Journal. So far, Rhode Island banks have distributed just 13 of the small, interest-free loans, while 58 loans have been awarded in nearby Maine and 52 businesses have received them in Massachusetts. The only states that have awarded fewer loans that Rhode Island are Hawaii, Delaware and Nevada. While there hasn’t been any official explanation for Rhode Island’s lack of involvement in the program, some say the process is just too confusing. Last week, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, introduced legislation to repeal the program based on the Office of Management and Budget’s finding that because of the program’s underwriting requirements, 60 percent of borrowers may default on their loans. The New York Timesreported last week that that’s not the only problem with the program. With loan limits too small and terms too generous for banks to profit from the program, and an impossible goal of targeting struggling yet “viable” businesses, the program was built to fail, the Times’ Robb Mandelbaum wrote.

And finally, despite a constant stream of reports in the media about the inaccuracies in stimulus jobs reports, and a report last week from the GAO that there are “significant issues to be addressed” in the accuracy of stimulus recipients’ forms, the agency in charge of overseeing the stimulus has said it will not change its official job count. (We reported on the GAO’s findings here.) The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board has said it will not revise number of jobs reported on the stimulus Web site, reports TheWall Street Journal. The board says there are errors in less than 5 percent of reports reviewed so far, and that it will change only those reports that contain “significant errors causing public confusion.”

Are you tracking the stimulus? ProPublica has set up a mailing list for reporters covering the stimulus, and you’re welcome to join. Just e-mail us.

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