State Workers

Quarter of stimulus is in play

The federal economic stimulus has pumped close to $827 million into Washington’s economy, less than a quarter of the $4 billion the state has been formally granted to date, officials said in a briefing last week.

“We do anticipate getting over $7 billion eventually. So far, it’s a little over $4 billion’’ that’s in hand, Robin Campbell, interim director of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s government-accountability program, GMAP, said after a meeting with the governor midweek to evaluate progress.

Washington’s jobless rate has hit 9.3 percent, and the stimulus is replacing fewer jobs than are being lost. The state Employment Security Department had referred 3,500 workers through June for 827 jobs with ties to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Of those, 673 jobs were filled, according to ESD Commissioner Karen Lee’s report to the group.

GMAP is Gregoire’s Government Management Accountability & Performance program that monitors agency progress toward performance goals, and managers met with Gregoire early Wednesday specifically to go over the stimulus-package.

Most jobs were at Hanford’s cleanup project, Lee told Gregoire and the GMAP group.

The state Department of Transportation reported another 850 jobs created or saved as a result of contracts issued with stimulus dollars. Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said 180 highway or local projects relying on federal funds were certified, two were substantially completed, and 149 were advertised for bids. Of those, 79 were under construction or awarded to contractors.

All told, that means Washington has seen about 1,800 jobs created or retained, according to Jill Satran, Gregoire’s adviser on the stimulus money. She said that includes another 300 jobs retained at Hanford.

Data provided in the GMAP session showed that the single largest bloc of money spent so far — about $441.5 million — was for medical services in the Medicaid program. The state is supposed to receive close to $1.75 billion in extra payments for Medicaid and has received $738.5 million of it so far, and Gregoire treated that funding as key.

“We’d still be in a legislative session were it not for (Medicaid) money for health services,’’ Gregoire said.

One other large bloc of spent funds, $340 million, was for education programs in the public school system. Satran said money sent to the state so far totals about $4 billion, but if additional payments that bypass state government and go directly to Hanford and local-government projects are added, the state’s receipts are closer to $5.4 billion.

So the estimated $827 million in spent recovery dollars is a low number, too. It also does not include unemployment benefits increased through the stimulus, according to Jill Satran, Gregoire’s policy adviser in charge of tracking stimulus spending and its results.

The extra jobless pay, about $25 per week per claimant, totaled $81.4 million through early July.

So far, Gregoire is giving good marks to the state’s effort to get federal stimulus money into Washington, out the door of state agencies, and into good projects.

She told the GMAP team that Washington has a ways to go on tracking the money but that the state is doing better than others, based on what she heard last week at a meeting of the National Governors Association in Mississippi.

“We’re keeping in perspective really what this federal stimulus is all about. Yes it’s to kick-start the economy, but it’s to do good and get results for the people of the respective states,” Gregoire told the group.

Gregoire, a Democrat, also threw out a word of caution as the state tries to account for its funding and get ready for a report in October to the Obama administration. She said colleagues at the governors’ meeting felt that states were becoming props in a national political game being played over the effectiveness of the stimulus.

“This has become one of the biggest political footballs in Washington, D.C., in a long, long time. And the facts don’t seem to get in the way,’’ Gregoire told her staffers. “It tells you just how difficult this subject is going to be for us, because I do think we are simply props in a political, rhetorical debate about whether stimulus could, should, did work or not.’’

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688