Across America, in varying degrees, our states are facing unprecedented economic challenges.
When President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on February 17, he approved the distribution of $787 billion to boost the economy and fund projects in the areas of education, health care, infrastructure, public safety, transportation, and energy. Some of the programs will be administered by federal agencies, while others will be handled at the state and local levels.
Once the legislation passed, the question at hand was: how will the funds be distributed among programs within the fifty states? More specifically, how much money will each state receive – and on what programs will they be spent?
As part of the Act, state and local governments will receive monies to use at their discretion, based on specific criteria and formulas, except in those cases where money has been earmarked for special projects. Some funds will be allocated to provide assistance to individuals via public service programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and expanded resources for job seekers. Others will be spent on infrastructure, public safety projects, tax relief programs, and more.
While the stimulus package was created to provide financial support to our nation’s most urgent challenges – in from housing to healthcare, education, infrastructure, and the economy – the Act isn’t just about handing out money.
Increasing government accountability and transparency in an effort to restore faith in government are integral tenets of the legislation.
Within the first two weeks following the passage of the Act, half of the states had already launched web sites devoted to the stimulus package and their respective economic recovery plans. And more are appearing on the scene daily.
While a handful of states used these sites to solicit proposals, and then disappeared (perhaps temporarily?) once the deadline for submissions had passed, most states are continuing to use their economic recovery sites to promote transparency and accountability, as well as educate and inform residents.
Hence, in addition to the federal recovery site, many state recovery web sites have similar themes and purposes. These include:
Keeping residents informed: Whether by posting news articles, press releases, and other announcements – and/or by encouraging interested parties to register for email notifications – almost all state recovery sites offer at least one vehicle through which residents can access up-to-date information and learn about the latest recovery developments in their state.
Showing the allocation of funds: Like many other sites, Pennsylvania’s recovery site includes a bar chart entitled, “Where is Your Money Going?” which shows the amount designated for education, healthcare, transportation and other spending categories.
North Carolina Recovery provides a breakdown of the areas and projects where its allotted funding will most likely be spent. New Mexico’s Office of Recovery and Reinvestment page also includes an Impact Summary that clearly delineates how the funds will be allocated within the state.
Some state recovery sites, like New York and Alabama, show how much of the federal stimulus package is devoted to each spending category, alongside a list of how much its respective state will receive in each of category. For example, according to New York’s Guide to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act web site, New York will receive $1,245,000 of the $8,400,000 in federal funds for transportation-mass transit.
Accepting requests for projects: It doesn’t get much easier than in Pennsylvania and Ohio. On Pennsylvania’s site, a tab marked “How Can I Get Recovery Money?” leads to a page with specific information for individuals, businesses and local governments.
Ohio’s site, which includes a tab marked “Submit Your Proposal,” does an excellent job of clearly outlining the process that organizations need to follow when in submitting requests for projects. As of March 11, 2009, more than 21,000 project proposals were submitted through Ohio’s recovery site.
Tracking local projects: Pennsylvania stands out as a pioneer in detailing benefits per county. By selecting a county on an interactive map, visitors can access an explanation of benefits by category for that area, including the number of people affected.
Explaining Tax Implications: New Jersey’s Recovery and Reinvestment Plan site is one example of a site that explains the federal tax relief programs for individuals, businesses, and other organizations – and how each will impact New Jersey citizens, businesses, and public agencies.
Increasing transparency and government accountability: Transform Missouri’s recovery site includes a page that lists all funds received under the recovery act – including date and amount of deposit – and will track how and when the funds are spent.
Some governors have created working groups or special commissions to manage the funds received from the stimulus package. The Connecticut Recovery Working Group, established to identify and prioritize projects in the state, is posting its agendas and meeting minutes with full public access.
Soliciting public input: Missouri’s site, for example, invites residents to share their ideas on how the money should be spent. “If you don’t have a specific project proposal, but you do have an idea about how we can create Missouri jobs and transform our economy, we want to hear from you,” the site says, and provides an email comment form through which to convey those ideas.