Sunday, October 24, 2021

Recovery Act and federal stimulus: The best and worst ways Americans have spent their stimulus money

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New taxpayer records show most federal stimulus dollars have been spent on state and local government programs.

And they show some very old habits remain – e.g., old cars, certain family members, entertainment.

Some examples of stimulus spending:

Local parks. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has given almost $2 billion to state and local governments to build and maintain parks, playgrounds, splash parks, bike parks, dog parks, sidewalk projects, trail crossings, and outdoor learning centers. It has given states $1.4 billion in tax incentives for improving or building playgrounds, including $366 million to California and $211 million to Florida. The stimulus funded more than 100,000 playgrounds, which was a couple hundred million dollars over the goal. The sum of $2.3 billion was allocated for 1,152 playgrounds nationwide. No other states got more than $100 million apiece.

State and local education. States have received $123 billion in stimulus money to hire teachers and school support personnel, upgrade teacher preparation and replace outdated textbooks. Cities and counties have received $46 billion for education. The nation’s biggest winners were New York ($30 billion), California ($22 billion), Florida ($19 billion), and Pennsylvania ($18 billion).

Firefighting. Rural fire departments have benefited from $90 million in stimulus spending on fire fighting gear, hoses, extinguishers, trucks, and other firefighting equipment.

Reductions in unemployment compensation. The stimulus raised the maximum amount of unemployment compensation to $5,000 for up to 26 weeks. The stimulus funds about $300 million a year that would otherwise go to unemployment insurance benefits.

Military. The stimulus provided $25 billion to pay for homebuyers, tuition to attend a military college, and added $450 million to the National Guard and Reserve Emergency Response Equipment Program, which provides additional training to the National Guard and reserve units. The funds are all intended to keep troops ready for missions overseas.

Shooting sports. The stimulus authorized $31 million over five years to help people with disabilities get access to shooting sports at state-approved shooting ranges.

Cars. About $300 million in tax credits have been used to buy new or slightly used cars. About $1.3 billion went to automakers. About $1.3 billion went to car dealers, like Subaru, Ford, Mercedes, and Toyota.

Medicare. In 2009, the government began offering large subsidies to help health insurers reach out to people with Medicare and lower premiums for those who had high medical costs. This spending is completely unrelated to the stimulus, because the goal was not to drive down premiums but to ensure a sustainable health care system in the long term.

Textbook subscriptions. The stimulus boosted the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit for college students to $1,260 for each student. That is $1,000 more than the federal EITC is worth now. To the tune of $77 million in the stimulus program.

Instructional materials. Eighty-three states and Puerto Rico have received money to provide K-12 students with classroom instruction materials. About $400 million went to elementary and secondary schools, with about $3 million each going to colleges and universities. California received almost $22 million in state and local stimulus money to subsidize textbooks.

Apprenticed to the dance. The stimulus funded $6.8 million in grants to outfit students with dance instruction at community centers throughout the country.

Military aerospace. The stimulus funded $50 million in tax incentives for companies that create more aviation jobs in the United States. Those are purely economic incentives, and not related to defense.

The best and worst ways Americans have spent their stimulus money

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