Our stimulus dollars at work: ARRA naysayers should now clearly see benefits of jobs, programs in Montana


by Bruce Smith

I find it curious how often we fail to recognize what’s in our best interests, or that of our children and their children.

It was February 2009 when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (which has been popularly labeled the stimulus act because it was designed to help stabilize an American economy in free-fall) was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

I still hear talk suggesting that many do not understand, or have forgotten, the necessity of that action – an action supported by a consensus of economists. America’s economy had shed about 7 million jobs by the time the ARRA was signed into law – a loss of national productivity and personal despair not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, a disaster most of us did not experience.

The ARRA had three pots of money: $288 billion in tax cuts and incentives that nearly all Americans received;
$224 billion in entitlements that were largely distributed to states to forestall layoffs of additional employees and to help states with the rising costs of Medicaid, COBRA and unemployment insurance; and $275 billion in contracts, grants and loans, largely to fund infrastructure projects. Overall, more than 90 percent of these dollars have been made available as of December. These data are readily available on the website www.recovery.gov.

Most of us do not recall that we received the tax cuts, money we’ve long since spent and that helped stimulate local economies. For those who believe the money designated for entitlement programs was a waste, just ask a policeman, teacher or welfare worker if they value having their jobs, and whether you value the services they provide your community.

As for the infrastructure investments, these dollars found their way to nearly every county and municipality in every state. For example, I was visiting with Sheridan’s mayor recently and learned that our town of 700 residents received two stimulus grants. With one of $18,439 received in 2009, the town repaired deteriorating streets and fixed water leaks and other problems with town facilities. While at a high school football game this fall, the mayor received a call on his cell phone from Sen. Jon Tester informing him that Sheridan was awarded a second grant of $2.5 million to help replace the town’s deteriorated sewer system.

Twin Bridges received $2.66 million for two projects, and Virginia City $966,000 for two projects. In total, Madison County and its municipalities received $6,387,000 covering everything from bridge replacement, irrigation, education, energy, and health and human services projects.

In total, Montana received 2,615 contracts, grants and loans totaling over $1.5 billion through November. This infusion of capital funded improvements in our communities, provided jobs for our neighbors, and are investments that few of us realize were made possible, partially or wholly, by the ARRA.

Through September, nearly $270 billion in federal contracts, grants and loans have been awarded for infrastructure projects in all 50 states. Among them were initiatives supporting community health care centers to provide services to millions of Americans who had lost or could no longer afford health care insurance for their families, often due to the loss of their jobs. With so many jobs vanishing from the private sector in recent years, the ARRA tried to fill the employment void.

We cannot know how much worse the “Great Recession” might have been. However, losing more jobs in a failing economy would have reduced the ability of more unemployed citizens to generate demand for goods and services, pay taxes funding state and local services, while creating additional demand for unemployment benefits and social services.

Too often we hear the bad news and miss the good. In civilized societies where governments are designed to serve the greater well being of all citizens, I see this as some good news.

Bruce Smith is a wildlife biologist and science writer who lives in Sheridan.