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Wonder where all those stimulus $$$ are going? Maybe Joe Biden knows

July 9, 2009 |  7:42 am

Vice President Biden promotes road project in Carlisle, Pa. in June 2009 as part of President Obama's economic recovery plan

Vice President Biden traveled to Ohio today, trying to salvage public support for President Obama's $787-billion stimulus package. (Details from the vice president's office below.)

With the president in Italy for the G8 summit meetings, it falls to his vice president to try to staunch the fall in public opinion. And with more and more Americans questioning the effectiveness of the massive government bailout, a new Quinnipiac Poll shows that Obama's approval rating has dropped 13 points in the last two months in Ohio, a bellwether state for presidential elections for more than a century. The plunge: from 62% approval in May to 49% now.

"The economy in Ohio is as bad as anywhere in America," said Peter Brown, who runs the Quinnipiac Poll. "These numbers indicate that for the first time, voters have decided that President Barack Obama bears some responsibility for their problems."

Adding to the administration's woes is news that state legislatures are -- imagine! -- playing politics with decisions on where to spend the stimulus dollars. Tracing the first monies dispersed by the....

...administration, the New York Times, in an examination of the 5,274 transportation projects approved so far, found that "the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money" from transportation stimulus funds. Since large cities have major congestion and transportation issues, on its face this seems silly.

In Ohio, for instance, Cleveland was initially promised $200 million to help build a five-lane bridge to replace the 50-year-old Innerbelt Bridge, so deteriorated that officials last fall banned heavy truck traffic.

But then state officials, worried about meeting federal deadlines, decided to spend $115 million of that money on "shovel-ready projects." So, at the moment, the largest stimulus project in Ohio is bolstering the Nelsonville Bypass in southeastern Ohio to improve transportation to Appalachia.

Transportation to Appalachia? Not exactly a good way to alleviate traffic congestion in the cities. One expert called it the typical "peanut-butter" approach by state legislators eager to be reelected.

“If we’re trying to recover the nation’s economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas,” said Brookings Institution's Robert Puentes said. “But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are.”

Maybe Biden will explain all this soon. In the meantime, USA Today, looking at the first "easily traceable" $17 billion, found that counties that supported Obama during the 2008 election received twice as much money as those that went for his rival John McCain. This seems on its face contradictory to the Times' finding probably something about apples and oranges.

What is clear is that folks are unhappy with the pace of the recovery and worried that the debt-producing program will only add to the nation's economic woes.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Associated Press, from June "Road to Recovery" trip Biden took to promote the stimulus package. This was at a road project in Carlisle, Pa.

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White House News Release:
Vice President Biden Highlights Recovery Act Progress in Ohio

Announces $3.5-Million Community Development Block Grant for Cincinnati

Cincinnati — In a visit to the American Can Building in the northside neighborhood of Cincinnati, Vice President Biden this morning highlighted the many ways in which the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is supporting Southwest Ohio.

The American Can Building, a formerly abandoned factory that is being converted to a multi-use economic development project, is just one of thousands of Ohio projects and facilities to benefit from the act. Vice President Biden was joined at the site by Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory.“Roads plus teachers plus cops plus jobs equals a community — and that equals paychecks and prosperity,” said Vice President Biden. “In other words, it equals a better future right here in southwest Ohio.”

So far, $4.4 billion in Recovery Act funds have been obligated to Ohio, including $2 billion for education, $1 billion for health care and $445 million for transportation. These investments are already lifting up Cincinnati by funding health-care research, strengthening police officers and our armed forces, cleaning area parks and contributing to many other local goals.

Today, to add to that list, the Vice President announced the approval of the City of Cincinnati’s plan to use a $3.5-million federal grant to help stabilize and revive local neighborhoods, rehabilitate affordable housing and improve key public facilities.

Funded through the Recovery Act and run through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program will support state and local community development while stimulating employment at sites like the American Can Building, which is receiving $1.6 million of those funds.

“The President’s Recovery Act allows us to invest in local solutions to the many challenges our cities and counties are confronting,” said Secretary Donovan. “I’m pleased to stand with the people of Cincinnati as they work to build a real and lasting recovery for themselves and their children.”

Overall, the Recovery Act is touching upon all aspects of Ohioans’ lives, from affordable housing and transportation to education and job creation. Taken together, these improvements mean a more competitive Cincinnati that will attract businesses, families and jobs.Across the country, $174 billion of the Recovery Act have been committed in its first 130 days, including $43 billion in tax cuts.

One third of the act’s total funding is devoted to tax cuts for 95% of Americans. The act is also on pace to save or create 750,000 jobs in its first 200 days, or more than 3,000 jobs per day.For additional information on the Recovery Act, including breakdowns by category, state and agency, please visit   ###