COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package will help put 14,200 teens and young adults to work this summer in Ohio, and most of the stimulus-funded highway projects in the state are reaching economically distressed areas, according to a federal report released July 8.
All but one of the state’s highway projects are scheduled to be completed within three years. The exception is the replacement of the 50-year-old Interstate 90 bridge in Cleveland, a major project expected to take four years, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report to Congress.
The GAO’s audit covers 16 states and the District of Columbia that together are getting about two-thirds of the stimulus money. The agency is issuing reports every two months to examine how stimulus funds are being used.
Ohio, where the unemployment rate has jumped to 10.8 percent, the highest in more than a quarter century, expects to get $8.2 billion in stimulus money over the next three years. The summer jobs program will put young workers in parks, community colleges, hospitals and public schools.
The Obama administration intended for the stimulus to jump-start the economy, build new schools and usher in an era of education reform. But government auditors said many states are setting aside grand plans to stay afloat.
That included Ohio, where stimulus funds make up about 5 percent of Ohio’s general revenues for the $54 billion 2010-2011 budget. Ohio still faces a deficit, and Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican lawmakers remain deadlocked over how to balance the budget.
The stalemate is preventing some Ohio school districts from launching long-term education reforms because stimulus money for schools is tied to the state budget, GAO auditor Cynthia Fagnoni said.
And as tax revenues across the state continue to drop, many school officials are just looking to retain programs and teachers they have and avoid large layoffs, Fagnoni said.
Cleveland, however, is trying something different. School officials plan to offer 200 teachers who are at or near retirement the chance to stay and serve as teacher coaches or tutors for students. These teachers must agree to retire or resign after two years, when the stimulus act ends.
In the 16 states, about half the money set aside for road and bridge repairs is being used to repave highways rather than to build new infrastructure, the GAO said. And officials aren’t steering the money toward counties that need jobs the most, auditors found.
The Ohio Department of Transportation, which is getting $774 million in stimulus money, fared better.
Ohio has selected 210 transportation projects to get stimulus money, and 194 of them are located in economically distressed counties, the GAO said. Transportation officials told the GAO that since 79 of Ohio’s 88 counties are considered economically distressed under federal guidelines, targeting projects in struggling areas wasn’t difficult.
The GAO didn’t provide an estimate of jobs created under the stimulus plan but noted that as of June 25, Ohio had awarded 52 highway contracts valued at $92.1 million and construction on some projects had begun.