BY LAURA BROWN — With the national spotlight on how states spent federal stimulus money, some are looking at Hawaii projects ranging from Icelandic rock studies to learning in honeybees.
And a couple of deals gave money to out-of-state companies.
U.S. Senators Tom Coburn, M.D., (R-OK) and John McCain’s(R-AZ) new report: “Summertime Blues: 100 Stimulus Projects that Give Taxpayers the Blues,” details 100 questionable projects funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Although Hawaii was not included in the report, some local projects might qualify, such as the University of Hawaii, Manoa receiving $295,743 to conduct field mapping and sample collection of late-glacial volcanic rocks in West Iceland for geochemical analysis.
The university also received $210,000 to study learning and cognition in honeybees, focused on short-term memory, concept learning and relational learning.
Out-of-state companies listed as Hawaii recipients benefited from federal windfall of dollars. Chugach Industries in Alaska received $2,284,000 from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to renovate housing on Midway Atoll. At Your Service Heating & Cooling LLC, Phoenix, AZ, got $10,000 to provide two part-time personnel for escort services during a laser scanner survey at the Honolulu federal courthouse.
Targeting of Tax Dollars towards Long-term Agendas
At least part of the nearly $1 trillion stimulus is supposed to be targeted toward larger, long-term objectives, such as “clean” energy, public transportation or even changing personal habits.
Capitalizing on the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign aimed at preventing childhood obesity, the Hawaii Department of Health’s, “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” $3.4 million stimulus grant is targeting the “obesity epidemic” in Kauai and Maui by working to change systems, environment and policy so residents will make healthy choices, says Hawaii Program Coordinator Dr. Thomas Noyes.
“We are creating community norm changes for public health benefits, similar to the effort to combat tobacco use.”
Although the obesity grant was approved in March, the project is still putting together coalition members and procuring service contracts. “One main focus of the initiative will be a counter-advertising challenge to the profit motive of food industries marketing increased consumption,” says Noyes.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” stimulus funding totaled $372.8 million, with $230 million for obesity prevention and $142.8 million for tobacco prevention in 31 states, including Hawaii.
The University of Hawaii also received $600,000 in stimulus funds for the Pili ‘Ohana Partnerships to Overcome Obesity Disparities in Hawaii program despite 2008 clinical trials demonstrating that participants regained weight after the three-year program ended.
The Centers for Disease Control statistics show the rate of obesity in Hawaii as below the national norm. Instead, statistically, the No. 1 health problem in Hawaii is binge drinking. No stimulus funds are being spent to address this issue.
Local Oversight Commission Reviews Report Containing Estimated Job Numbers
Hawaii’s Legislative Federal Economic Stimulus Program Oversight Commission is currently tasked with the review of The Council of Economic Advisors, The Economic Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Fourth Quarterly Report, dated July 14, 2010, on the impact stimulus spending has had on job creation across the country.
The report claims 13,000 jobs have been created in Hawaii.
The official count listed on Recovery.gov is 3,580 jobs through June 2010.
Mark Anderson, Hawaii Lead ARRA Coordinator, in a statement before the Oversight Commission in June 2010, said that government entities collectively reported 1,810.77 jobs saved or created for the period January through March 2010. All ARRA recipients in Hawaii reported a total of 2,561.57 for the quarter.
The difference in reported jobs is because the Council of Economic Advisors says it uses an estimate — not actual numbers — of increased jobs “over what it would have been” without the stimulus.
However, none of these numbers are reflected in a breakdown under required reporting.
For example, because the federal formula for determining the number of jobs is based on the number of hours worked in a quarter, Hawaii’s Department of Education was able to report 202.55 full-time equivalent workers for summer school in 2009, based on part-time substitute teachers and staff that were hired, totaling 105,295 hours divided by 520 standard hours of work.
The Superintendent of Schools testified in 2009 before the Senate Appropriations Committee that federal stimulus funds paid for extended learning opportunities for Hawaii’s students, but students interviewed by Hawaii Reporter who attended summer school in 2009 said their families paid regular tuition.
The department also received $39.9 million in funding for its special education program and calculated services of existing special education private contractors at 346.86 full-time equivalent employees.
Summer school and special education services are on-going, yearly expenditures that employ or compensate workers each year, meaning those jobs were not created due to new federal spending.
Spending the Money, Not Jobs, is Top Priority
The Obama Administration’s stated goal of the federal stimulus is to create jobs and boost the economy. But many jobs reported on www.recovery.gov and www.stimulus.org also report employment for jobs that have not been started.
For example, while Chugach Industries grant for the Midway Atoll project does not show any jobs created, several other grants received by Chugach report employment was created in many states by hiring subcontractors for jobs that have not begun.
And many grant writers created jobs when they wrote grants to receive federal funding for themselves and their assistants.
But for some officials, it is not the jobs created; instead, it is the spending that matters.
The Council of Economic Advisors report states, “For the impact on the economy, what matters is less the cumulative level of expenditures under the Act, but rather the amount spent each quarter.”
Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona says of stimulus funding, “We want to spend it or it goes back to the federal government as of September 30.”
However, Oversight Commissioner Ed Kemp says, “We are told that we must spend all of the stimulus funds and not return it, but the issue is that this is borrowed money that must be repaid, with interest, by our children and grandchildren. That means we cannot waste this money. If it is spent, it must be spent very carefully.”
Laura Brown is a Capitol reporter for Hawaii Reporter and can be reached at LauraBrown@hawaii.rr.com