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Stimulus Math: Following the Money Isn’t Easy

La Opinión, News Report, Yolanda Arenales, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Aug 29, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- If the stimulus money were evenly split among all of California's residents, you would receive $2,312. But while, in theory, it’s easy to divide the $85 billion that California could receive over three years, following the money trail is much more than a question of arithmetic. The amount allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is divided among more than 20 agencies that each distributes it among their numerous programs and activities, to those who can allocate Uncle Sam’s emergency funds.

In addition, one must take into account the geographic distribution: some of the state money falls specifically into county or city programs, which in turn are divided into neighborhoods and districts. This makes it even more complicated to track money from the large, abstract figures to the concrete benefits to a community. There are also funds that go directly to citizens in the form of unemployment benefits, tax cuts or medical benefits.

Excluding these last three categories, the non-profit organization ProPublica estimates that the piece of the federal pie allocated to California as of July surpassed $15.7 billion. The figure includes all the money that can be tracked down to the county level, from public projects to education funds, grants and housing assistance.

“Up to a certain point, you have to assume the effect of the stimulus as a ‘total’ more than a sum of its different dissected parts,” says Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project (CBP).

Ross notes that the first things to accept about the stimulus are its imperfections, given that the rapid turnaround necessary for an emergency measure can compromise its effectiveness.

The expert believes that there undoubtedly will be situations where the funds end up in the hands of a questionable contractor, or an ineffective project, but she also notes that one must be willing to admit its positive effects.

“At least it’s helped us figure out that we are not in a depression, but only in a recession,” Ross says.

Despite his experience analyzing the impact of public policies on different communities, Joseph Carreras, program manager and researcher for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), agrees that “stimulus math” is hard.

“I think its impact is invisible individually, though collectively, it seems to have boosted the economy, preventing the recession from getting worse,” says Carreras.

So far, California has received more funding than any other state: more than $11.4 billion as of Aug. 24 of this year, compared to the $5.8, $3.7 and $3 billion received respectively by New York, Illinois and Florida, the other states that received the most funds.

Ismael González, a resident of Long Beach, says that for him, the most tangible part of the stimulus is the extra $25 he makes a week since he got unemployment insurance a few months ago.

“It lets me buy a few more things, but I still stay up at night wondering what will happen if I can’t get a job,” says González, who doubts that he will benefit from one of the 396,000 jobs that the federal government says will be created in California thanks to the stimulus.

California has received more funds than any other state: $11,471,841,000
Stimulus breakdown for California as of Aug. 24:
Funds that have been allocated: $26,098,106,000
Funds still available: $19,266,380,000
Funds that have been paid: $11,471,841,000
Source: Recovery.gov

Economic stimulus total estimate for California: $85 billion
Amount (in billions):

Fiscal relief 30.2
Health and Social Services 19.5
Education 11.8
Employment 5.2
Transportation 4.7
Other 3.3
Energy 3
Water and Environment 2.5
Science and Technology 2.4
Housing 2.1
Public Security 0.7
Source: www.recovery.ca.gov

Related Articles:

Track How Stimulus Dollars Are Spent, Ethnic Media Told

Stimulus Leaves Bus Riders Out in the Cold

Much-Promoted Stimulus Package Disappoints Many

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