New Hampshire has set the new standard for stimulus transparency, according to a government watchdog. The Project on Government Oversight examined which states are posting information online about the contracts they sign to spend stimulus money. It turns out the Granite State is the winner, posting scanned versions of the actual contracts. That exceeds the transparency offered by Recovery.gov, the federal Web site established by the Recovery Act, which will post detailed information on contracts but not the contracts themselves. POGO is calling on the federal government to follow New Hampshire’s lead.
The stimulus is succeeding in one area: getting more Americans to sign up for health care. According to a study by Hewitt Associates, reported in the Kansas City Star, the number of people signing up for insurance under COBRA, which extends health-care benefits for those who are laid off, has doubled, from 19 percent before the stimulus to 38 percent after it. The Recovery Act provides a subsidy for those who sign up for the benefits, bringing the average cost down from $8,000 to $3,000. (For the acronym-curious, COBRA stands for the utterly unintelligible Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.)
From Missouri, an inversion of the usual stimulus story: Instead of announcing how much the state would be getting in stimulus funds, the federal Department of Labor announced how much Missouri would not be getting: $133 million. That’s how much more the state could have received had it only made the changes to its unemployment benefits that Washington asked for — expansions in coverage that Missouri says would have left it on the hook for funding higher benefits once the federal money ran out. Missouri’s Legislature passed a bill in May that made the changes Washington wanted, but with a sunset clause that kicked in after a year. The federal Department of Labor said the provision disqualified Missouri from the extra money.
In the Los Angeles Times, a rare phenomenon: economists disagreeing over the stimulus! Economics professors Brad DeLong (pro) and Edward E. Leamer (con) hash out whether the stimulus is working, and whether it’s worth the cost. This kind of debate may have lost its novelty by now (the New York Times upped the ante earlier this month by using video), but we nonetheless applaud the effort to inject learned opinion into the public discussion over the stimulus. Put this on your daily reading list. But get a coffee first.
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