ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Just 12 Percent of Stimulus Money Has Been Spent

Nearly six months after the ginormous stimulus bill passed, politicians and economists are arguing about whether it has made much of a dent in the limping economy.

Defenders of the bill — President Barack Obama among them — insist it is too soon to tell because the stimulus hasn't had much of a chance to work. They have one key fact on their side — though it's a fact critics could just as easily use: Only $70 billion, or about 12 percent of the $580 billion in the spending portion of the stimulus package, is out the door so far. (It's much more difficult to track the tax cut portion, which makes up the bill's remaining $212 billion.)

Moreover, that 12 percent includes some $13 billion from the Social Security Administration in one-time $250 checks to current Social Security recipients. Those payments, while helpful for those who received them, represent the low-hanging fruit of stimulus spending, requiring no requests for proposals, no bidding process and no contracts to be tendered, invoiced and paid. Those Social Security checks make up almost one-fifth of the stimulus "spending" so far.

We’re going to continue tracking the speed at which money is being spent, as a key to how well the stimulus is working, updating our progress bar every week.

An interesting question—how much of the slow pace of spending (as in signing the contracts or checks) is due to lower than expected bids? How much is simply lethargic bureaucrats?

I can generalize from one nettlesome project in my county, where the engineering estimate used by the MD SHA was $230,000 and the contract was for $97,000. The balance just “sits around” until the state government, Md Dept of Transp, decides to apply it somewhere else, according to the SHA press office. Obviously if $230K is spent on one contract, the “pace of spending” is a lot faster than if $97K is spent and it takes another 6 months for the $133K balance to get applied to something.

While it “sits around” they keep it on the books attached to the county or counties in which the work is thought of as being done, thereby inflating the figures.

Whether deliberate or inadvertent, this isn’t transparency or plain dealing with the citizens.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Eye on the Stimulus

Eye on the Stimulus

Officials have struggled to spend the nearly $800 billion stimulus package quickly and effectively.

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