Officials Give Vermont B+ For Stimulus Spending

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Three years ago, in the midst of a severe recession, Congress passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. All told, more than $800 billion was allocated, and Vermont received $1 billion as part of the federal stimulus package.

Now, officials are taking stock of the effectiveness of those funds in Vermont.

Comprised of over 300 different federal programs, ARRA was meant to jump start the country’s economy in a hurry. President Barack Obama had just taken office and many federal agencies were still without directors.

The challenge for states was to sort through the money available and the rules for applying for the available funds. Governor Jim Douglas named Tom Evslin as Vermont’s Chief Recovery Officer. Looking back on the effectiveness of the stimulus, Evslin gives the state a B-plus for its use of the funds.

"I think we did pretty well compared to other states. That means that the administration did a good job. It means that the Legislature did a good job supporting the programs that were going on. It means that Vermont communities and Vermonters who got grants used the grants responsibly," Evslin said.

Evslin says where the state came up short was that it missed the opportunity to bring its education and Medicaid spending under control.

In 2011, a study on the effectiveness of the stimulus package found that funds used for education were among the least effective.

Dartmouth Economics Professor Jim Feyrer co-authored the study.

"For the education funding, the money’s very fungible. If you’re paying to sort of keep some teacher on the books, there might be some other teacher that, you can sort of fudge that a little more easily and actually reduce your teaching loads while taking money where you’re promising not to reduce your number of teachers because the money is fungible," Feyrer said.

All of Vermont’s over $1 billion in stimulus money has been allocated. But funds for projects that would require more time to complete, such as broadband, have yet to be distributed.

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