Washington Matters


Stimulus Money Is Flowing, But Slowly


Economic stimulus funds are beginning to flow out of Washington. Or maybe trickle is a better word. Less than 8% of the two-year $787 billion stimulus package  has been spent to date, raising concerns that the money will be too little, too late to boost the economy as intended. President Obama, for his part, says he's satisfied with the progress and insists the pace is accelerating.

So far, $12 billion has actually been spent and $43 billion more obligated, plus a few hundred billion in aid to the states is in the pipeline. And that doesn't count the tax cuts, which by design are showing up slowly over two years in workers' paychecks.

Bids are out or checks have been cut for roughly 15% of funds dedicated to roads, bridges and other infrastructure. More than two thousand projects have gotten the nod. Hundreds more are near to being approved. States are moving quickly on physical infrastructure. Widening of U.S. 69 nears Kansas City, Kansas, has begun, for example. Maryland will soon resurface roads in Anne Arundel Co.

California is soliciting bids for repairs to oil and gas pipelines. Nebraska is planning construction of a major interchange on I-80 near Lincoln. Philadelphia is taking bids for solar panels on the roofs of public buildings. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hiring for construction and demolition work in the Great Lake states with stimulus money.

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Health related spending will trickle out more slowly. So far, about $500 million in emergency grants to 1200 community health care clinics. Toward the end of 2009 and next year, $17 billion in incentive payments will be dispersed to health care providers who adopt electronic medical records after national tech standards are developed.

The administration has set up a special Web site for those interested in tracking stimulus spending state by state.

One silver lining in this soft economy: Stimulus money is stretching further than expected. Intense competition for contracts is slashing price tags on many local projects. Upgrades at Maryland's BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport will cost 20% less than budgeted. Colorado officials say they are getting bids 30% below budget from reputable contractors. Such stories are repeated in other states.




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