Recovery Dollars Still At Work in Wisconsin
Last week, we highlighted a recent report that showed that the Recovery Act is still creating and saving jobs – between two and three million in the first quarter of 2011. That’s a significant figure, especially given the agonizingly slow pace of the jobs recovery.
And although you don’t hear much about it these days, there’s still Recovery dollars at work in Wisconsin as well as at the national level. The Wisconsin Recovery website which seems to have been renamed the Wisconsin Federal Funds website, has a list of Recovery Act expenditures by state department, and the percent expended by project.
Some agencies have spent all or nearly all of the Recovery Act dollars awarded. For example, the Department of Children and Families has spent $42.8 million of the $44.3 million awarded, mostly on child care assistance and quality improvement and community services block grants. The Department of Natural Resources has also spent more than 95% of the Recovery amount awarded, in large part to protect clean water in Wisconsin.
Other agencies still have significant Recovery Act dollars that have not yet been expended. The Department of Public Instruction is one of these agencies, having so far expended only 58% of its award. In particular, DPI has spent only 6% of the $43 million it was awarded for school improvement grants, which are aimed at turning around low-performing schools.
When I asked a DPI representative why the agency had spent so little of the school improvement Recovery Act funds so far, she told me that the agency has spending authority for these grants through September 2014, much later than the September 2011 deadline for most of the agency’s other Recovery Act money. In addition, the state received the money for school improvement grants more recently than the other Recovery grants, and so has had less of a chance to spend them.
Recovery Act dollars have mitigated the effect of massive cuts in state funding for school districts. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from July says that some districts have been able to get by without significant layoffs in the 2011-12 school year by depleting reserve funds and leftover stimulus money.
The Recovery Act isn’t making headlines any more, but those dollars are still at work in Wisconsin – improving our schools, making child care more accessible for working parents, and protecting our water. The stimulus was designed to be temporary, though, and we’ve already passed the peak spending period. As the economy sags and the federal government sharply curtails spending, the phase-out of Recovery Act dollars comes at a challenging time.