Tag Archive for resources

Measuring the stimulus

How the money moves / Recovery.gov


Under the Recovery Act, better known as the federal stimulus, the government has spent about $540 billion so far in direct grants and entitlements, and another $300 billion in tax benefits. Yet, down at the street level, many people would be hard-pressed to say where they’ve seen this spending in their community.

To report on how stimulus money affected your market area, start by getting an overview of the local data. Learning how to navigate and use the resources will help you with many kinds of reporting about how federal money is spent at the local level.

There are three major sources – two from the government, Recovery.gov and USASpending.gov, and one from a nonprofit, ProPublica.org. You can also get further information from your state’s site on stimulus spending.

ProPublica was specifically designed for ease of use by reporters and citizens. However, because each of the three sites has advantages and disadvantages, to gain accuracy and completeness you might want to use all three and compare.

We’ll do posts on each of these to show you in more detail how to get and use the numbers you need.

But keep in mind the advice of Sarah Cohen (Duke University) in her 2010 IRE webinar about the stimulus: “DON’T try to do an accounting of the money. You’ll go crazy. DON’T force everything to add up. It won’t. … DON’T depend on employment estimates – they’re really bad.”

Start with some basic measures of where and to whom that stimulus money went, and let the story ideas emerge from there:

+How much recovery money in total flowed to your state? to your county?

+Who were the biggest recipients?

+How much went to loans for businesses? How much to state agencies? How much to contractors? How much to direct assistance?

Questions about job creation are a special case, and we’ll have a post about that.

The three major sources for data about how stimulus money is being spent:

Read more

Who doesn’t have to file?

Approximately two-thirds of the organizations that are registered as tax-exempt don’t file a Form 990 with the IRS in any given year, according to NCCS. Congregations and some other religious organizations, as well as organizations with less than $25,000 in gross receipts, are in this category.

They do, however, need to file the brief form 990N electronic postcard. But this gives no details about the organization or its finances.

Here are all the exceptions – from the “Guide to Using NCCS Data“:

Unless a public charity falls under one of the filing exceptions below, it is required to file IRS Form 990.

1. A church, an interchurch organization of local units of a church, a convention or association of churches, an integrated church (such as a men’s or women’s organization, religious school, mission society, or youth group).

2. Church-affiliated organizations that are exclusively engaged in managing funds or maintaining retirement programs.

3. A school below  Read more

Online sources about nonprofits

NCCS graphic for 2008

When you’re researching a nonprofit, a few simple steps can tell you a lot.

For any organization you are researching, go first to GuideStar.org, make sure their tax-exempt status has not been revoked, and look at the GuideStar summary report.

From there you can also download recent 990 forms for more details. These forms are filed instead of a tax return.

The 990 form must be filed Read more

Lists of nonprofits: What’s the difference?

When I was comparing the three major sources of info about nonprofits, I found that there were many organizations which were in MelissaData and GuideStar but were NOT in the IRS lists of exempt or revoked organizations.

But that doesn’t mean they are not legitimate.

An organization’s nonprofit status is different than its tax-exempt status. A nonprofit Read more

Census at IRE

The Investigative Reporters and Editors website has a special section about the census.


From here, you can download data all the way down to the neighborhood (“place”).

The data can be Read more