Local officials say stimulus funds well spent

September 20, 2010 7:55:02 PM PDT
A big part of the political rhetoric in this election season is over the Obama administration's stimulus spending. Republican lawmakers say it did not work. Democratic members of Congress say the economy would be in much worse shape without it.

The money is not hard to track; there are websites at the federal and local level that track the spending. People who look at how the money's being spent may notice a disconnect from the current political debate.

San Mateo County spent $2.9 million of its stimulus dollars to subsidize salaries for businesses, like the Laundry Locker, that wanted to hire new workers.

"As far as we knew it was all hiring new workers," John Joy said.

Joy is director of program support for the county's human services agency. He says the salary support was a big piece of what his department did with its stimulus dollars, but it also spent another $2 million on food and other assistance for the poor.

"Well, those services helped people who were under 200 percent of federal poverty level from falling any further into poverty," Joy said.

Some of the money went to cut the county's energy expenses, including a more efficient air conditioning system at the county building and an upgraded laundry system at the jail.

Of the $15,860,000 San Mateo County received, 377 jobs were created, but 30,785 clients received services.

This is pretty typical, says the chairman of the politics department at the University of San Francisco.

"It looks like, like a lot of local governments and the state government did, it looks like, 'Wow these are things we were going to cut,'" Patrick Murphy said.

And the stimulus money meant they could put off some of those cuts.

"Really the best example I can give is sort of the school classroom, which is if there hadn't been stimulus money, maybe the teacher was teaching the class with 35 kids, if with the stimulus money that teacher is teaching a class with 30 kids, that's the difference," Murphy said.

But the stimulus spending isn't being measured in that way in the political world.

"How can you say you've created all these jobs when the unemployment rate continues to go up," Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina said on Friday.

"Are there issues that every single dollar that was spent was perfect, of course not," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in response.

For the man whose been administering millions of stimulus dollars in San Mateo County something is getting left out of the debate.

"It seems like the entire focus recently has been on how many jobs it created, rather than how many people it helped," Joy said.

Because unemployment is still high and the economy struggling, the political debate is all about jobs.

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