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: