Stimulus report card: Where did all the Mohave County money go?

Even though almost $50 million dollars came Mohave County's way during the three years of President Barack Obama's multi-billion dollar economic stimulus package, the overall impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has left much to be desired in the minds of some.

"I think overall the stimulus didn't do anything to stimulate the economy," said District 3 Representative Nancy McLain. "I didn't see any great effects."

By the administration's calculations, recovery act money created or saved almost 400 jobs in the county while providing money for projects ranging from bat-friendly cupolas and desert tortoise fencing to road work, modular buildings, weatherization projects, airport ramp rehabilitation and an assortment of police personnel and equipment.

One of the first acts of the Obama administration, ARRA has awarded more than $733 billion in tax benefits, entitlements, contracts, grants and loans to governments, businesses and individuals nationwide.

Of that total, $300 billion has gone to tax benefits, $215 billion to entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid grants and extended unemployment benefits and $218 billion has financed a wide range of public and private programs and projects.

And while the recovery act has by many accounts succeeded in staving off the worst potential of the economic collapse, its imminent end leaves the question of whether its expensive, short-term benefits are at all sustainable.

"I know that a lot of money went to the schools and probably saved jobs there," McLain said. "But the private sector is the only place that really creates jobs."

According to the recovery.gov website, the act's unprecedented effort to bring transparency to the program, Arizona recipients have been awarded $7.77 billion in contracts, loans and grants, and $4.13 billion of that money has been received, resulting in the creation of almost 75,000 jobs, many of them temporary, through Sept. 30, 2011.

Mohave County locations have been awarded $72.5 million in contracts and grants through the act, but only $49.5 million has so far been paid out.

Tribe mum

A great deal of the money that has not yet been used is earmarked for the Hualapai Tribe, which has more than $14 million pending for road projects and a water system for Grand Canyon West.

The tribe did not respond to requests for comment on their use of the money.

County areas receiving the most ARRA funds are Kingman, at $20.36 million, Lake Havasu City, $8.77 million and Bullhead City, $7.76 million.

Mohave Valley, Littlefield and Colorado City each have received more than $1 million through the program, which primarily paid for school operations and previously planned government projects.

Matthew Hanson, director of the Arizona Office of Economic Recovery, said that most of the recovery act money followed existing federal money sources, which in turn paid for projects and programs through state agencies. That method left some who received and used the money unaware that the money had originated from the recovery act and replaced funding the state was unable to provide.

Personal stimulus

Others who took advantage of the money were well aware where it came from.

Anita Waite, who with her husband runs the Cane Spring Ranch near Wikieup, is one of the few individuals locally to receive an ARRA grant. The grant, for almost $34,000, paid for the conversion of three wells on the ranch to solar power.

Waite said the savings are significant, and worth the volumes of paperwork the grant application required.

"My husband figured it out and we save about 250 gallons of diesel per well every year," she said. "It saves you fuel two ways, by not running the generator up to the well and then by not using it."

That amounts to a savings of about $2,800 per year and, while it may not create any jobs per se, it does advance the act's goal of utilizing alternative energy sources.

The Waite grant is an example of how the state of Arizona dispersed a great deal of the stimulus money through existing programs.

The 30-year-old State Energy Program was created to increase energy efficiency and promote the use of renewable resources. During its budget crisis, the Legislature diverted almost $56 million of recovery act money into the program, one facet of which was to encourage farmers and ranchers, through incentives, to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels for agricultural production.

Results disappointing

Still, Waite said she is not terrifically pleased with the overall result of the multi-billion dollar stimulus package.

"Even though we benefited from it, I don't think it did what it intended to do," Waite said. "It didn't really stimulate the economy."

One of the drawbacks that many recipients of ARRA money noted was the huge amount of government paperwork and regulation that accompanied the money. But the paperwork and the unprecedented oversight have produced at least one positive outcome, a relatively small amount of fraud, waste and abuse.

Hanson said that in Arizona, only six cases of misuse were reported to the state office and none of those were substantiated. And nationally, outgoing Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney wrote recently that the act's operations center has reviewed more than 275,000 award reports over the past three years, resulting in 298 criminal convictions and an estimated $7.2 million in lost recovery act money.