Dispatch from Planet Stimulus

by Stephen Spruiell


Energy Funds Went Unspent, U.S. Auditor Says

The recession is lingering, and so is the unspent stimulus money that was meant to help end it.

The latest example is the $3.2 billion that Congress voted in February 2009 as part of an economic stimulus package to simultaneously provide jobs and improve energy efficiency through block grants to states and cities.

Only about 8.4 percent of the money had been spent by the beginning of this month, according to an audit released on Friday by the inspector general of the Energy Department, and it has produced or saved only about 2,300 jobs as of the second quarter of this year.

The program was to provide money for the purchase of better lighting or heating and cooling equipment for buildings like city halls and schools. But it is off to the same slow start as a bigger program that was initiated at the same time to weatherize the homes of low-income people around the country. An audit of that program in February, also by the  inspector general, found that only $368.2 million of $4.73 billion, or less than 8 percent, had been spent.

It is amazing to me that the Democrats will stand by and defend cutting food stamps over eliminating clearly worthless programs such as these — and there are dozens more in the stimulus bill where that came from. Of course, it makes more sense when you remember that the food-stamp cuts don’t kick in until 2013, and that the long-term game plan is to add them back before they expire, just as we’ve seen the Democrats do with unemployment-insurance expansions, state-bailout funds, and numerous other “temporary” programs created by the stimulus.

And why has the federal government been unable to spend the money more quickly?

The strings on the weatherization program were rules like one requiring that people spending federal dollars pay the “prevailing wage.” The government had no established number for the prevailing wage for fields like insulation installers.

Naturally, a number of unions sued to make sure the “prevailing wage” was set as high as possible, and their patrons at the state level passed laws to make sure that other benefits for unions would be added besides:

In another state (Nevada), the massive influx of stimulus funds met with delays and confusion after organized labor claimed it wasn’t getting a big enough share. After the stimulus passed, Nevada Democrats passed a law requiring half the new workers to have gone though union apprenticeships, adding to the cost of the program and slowing its pace. On top of that, the AFL-CIO sued the state housing division, arguing that all the new jobs should pay union wages and benefits. States and unions are involved in similar disputes in other states, leading even green advocates to question how much bang for the buck the program is providing.

Will somebody please put these programs out of our misery already?

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