Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is the Stimulus Helping You?

Is the Stimulus Helping You?

by Tami Luhby
Thursday, August 6, 2009 readers describe how President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package has helped them -- or hasn't.

Sara Kelley: Got a Job
A civil engineer, Sara Kelley owes her job to President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.

Her employer, a national engineering firm, was preparing to lay off dozens of workers after work dried up and her name was on the list. But, her job was saved after the company won a contract to build high-occupancy vehicle lanes on heavily trafficked I-405 in Los Angeles.

"I am very grateful for the stimulus package and the funding it provides to keep civil engineers employed across the country," said Kelley, 33, a San Diego resident.

Kelley's job is likely safe for at least a year. By then, she hopes, the economy will have picked up and her firm will have more contracts. Meanwhile, she's putting some of the per diem money she receives for working in Los Angeles back into the economy.

"I feel it's my civic duty to spend all of the extra money I receive as a result of the stimulus program shopping and dining out," said Kelley. "I'll admit I'm also saving more of my regular paycheck, knowing there may not be another project after this one is completed."

Chris Curci: Sees Wasted Work

When Chris Curci heard that stimulus funds would provide billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements, he hoped that some of the money would go to repair Philadelphia's aging bridges.

Instead he sees road crews repaving a bunch of streets in his neighborhood that he says were in good shape. Some $12.7 million in stimulus funds is going to resurface streets citywide.

Ironically, the one street that could use a new top hasn't been touched at this point, he said.

"We're spending money to 'fix' things that don't need any fixing," said Curci, 28, a paralegal who attends law school. "They are repaving roads that are in perfectly fine condition. What a waste."

Curci said he supports the president's $787 billion stimulus program, but would like to see the money be put to upgrade bridges and roads that are in real need for repair.

Debra Valenti: Vital Lifeline

A cancer survivor, Debra Valenti can't let her medical coverage lapse. But it was equally tough for her to afford to continue her health insurance after she lost her job as an information technology analyst in February. The premiums alone were more than $300 a month.

But thanks to a subsidy provided under the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus program, Valenti now pays only $107 a month for Cobra coverage until the end of the year. And the $25 boost in unemployment benefits, which brings her weekly check to $430, helps as well.

"These two benefits combined cover my monthly medical insurance cost," said Valenti, 40.

The stimulus package, however, hasn't provided Valenti what she really wants -- a job. She hasn't seen any stimulus-related positions advertised in her area, and her brother, a glazier, can't find work either.

"We want to see the employment situation improve," she said.

Gov. John Hoeven: Little Impact

Though North Dakota is getting more than $566 million in stimulus funds, Gov. John Hoeven says it has had little impact so far. Only $9.6 million has hit North Dakota's coffers, mainly for human services and transportation.

"At this point, we haven't seen a lot of job creation," Hoeven said. "We're working to get the money out there. As the dollars come out, we hope to see more economic activity."

Though the Republican governor opposed the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package, he was in favor of the tax relief and infrastructure funding. The state is receiving $176 million in transportation money to put toward bridge and road repairs and construction.

Unlike most other states, North Dakota is in decent financial shape. It has the nation's lowest unemployment rate at 4.2% and is not running a budget deficit. But that doesn't mean it isn't benefiting from stimulus aid to the states.

Take education, for instance. The state is boosting school funding by $290 million for the 2009-2011 budget cycle. Just over half of that is stimulus money. But since that spigot will shut off after two years, Hoeven said he plans to use the federal funds only for one-time projects, such as upgrading schools and buying equipment.

Joab Gonzalez: Work for Youth

Without President Obama's $787 billion stimulus program, Joab Gonzalez wouldn't have a job and neither would 500 young adults in southern California.

Gonzalez runs a youth employment training project at Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program, in Imperial County, about 120 miles east of San Diego. As federal funding dried up last year, Gonzalez thought the initiative was history.

But the program is thriving this summer thanks to a $1.7 million shot of stimulus funds. Gonzalez, who last year took a pay cut and laid off staff, is able to double the number of youth served and nearly double their hourly wage to $8. He's also able to hire more workers and buy computers.

Gonzalez, 28, is a firm believer that the recovery act will boost the economy.

"I'm doing my part to let our youth know that these monies are meant to stimulate the economy and to spend it wisely, but promptly," he said. "The stores will also feel some relief when the youth and their parents go shopping with their earned money."

Scott Gasser: An Extra $7.50

Scott Gasser couldn't wait to receive his Making Work Pay tax cut under the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus program. Hoping to get an additional $50 a week, he figured he could rebuild his bank account after an expensive divorce.

It didn't quite work out that way. The maintenance worker at an auto parts maker, who was overly optimistic in his estimates, is only seeing an additional $7.50 a week.

"I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I don't even notice that," said Gasser, 38, who will have to reluctantly part with his Suzuki motorcycle so he can meet his bills.

Gasser, however, may end up benefiting from another part of the stimulus package. His plant is scheduled to close at the end of October, just when his first child is due. If he ends up on unemployment, he'll see a $25 boost in his weekly check, thanks to the stimulus package. Several of his friends
have told him that the extra bucks have an impact.

"They noticed the difference," he said.

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