Some states get share of stimulus faster

Stimulus money is flowing far more slowly to some states than others, a USA TODAY analysis shows, despite the Obama administration's push to speed up spending to help jump start the nation's economy.

Nearly six months after President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill, some states, such as California, have collected more than half of the money that's been promised to them so far. Ten others, such as Alaska, New Hampshire and Wyoming, have been paid less than a quarter, the review of federal spending reports shows.

How quickly states draw on their stimulus funds depends largely on state actions and needs, said Ed DeSeve, Obama's senior adviser on the stimulus. The administration has pushed states to spend some of that aid more quickly.

"Just as we push ourselves to get the money to the states quickly, we are urging the states to push the funds out quickly," says Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya.

Obama said two months ago he was "not satisfied" with the pace of spending and vowed to accelerate it. Since then, the Education Department has made $2.7 billion available months sooner than planned.

The money has flowed fastest to distressed states like California and Michigan, which have moved swiftly to claim their share of the federal aid. But those states have to plan carefully to avoid even more severe problems when the stimulus money runs out, says Nicholas Johnson of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think-tank.

Officials in states such as Illinois and Massachusetts that have gotten aid more quickly say they're preparing for the end of their stimulus aid by raising taxes and cutting expenses. "You always have to balance being quick with being responsible," says Kristi Lafleur, a deputy chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois.

In other states where the money has flowed more slowly, such as Texas and West Virginia, officials say they do not need the money as urgently because their economic outlook is not as dire.

Some complain federal rules have caused delays. "It often seems more like red tape than recovery," says Todd Stacy, a spokesman for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican. DeSeve said "there are no special regulations" slowing the spending.

Other examples of how states are handling stimulus aid:

• West Virginia, which got about 24% of its stimulus share, didn't need the money as quickly because "the recession hit West Virginia later," says Matt Turner, a spokesman for Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.

• In Alaska, battles that erupted after then-governor Sarah Palin proposed rejecting a third of the money have slowed the pace of aid, says Jack Kreinheder, a state budget official. He says the lag "is not causing us any kind of severe problems."

The stimulus includes $499 billion in new federal spending. Much of that goes to state governments; how much each state ultimately gets varies depending on a slew of federal funding formulas covering everything from roads to schools.

In the nearly six months since Obama signed the plan, the government has allocated about $200 billion in aid, but it has paid out only about $76 billion.

Where stimulus funds have gone so far

The $787 billion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Obama nearly six months ago contained $288 billion in tax cuts and $499 billion in new spending. So far, the administration has spent $76.3 billion — 15% of the total available. USA TODAY reporters Brad Heath and Matt Kelley look at where the money has gone so far and the impact it is having. Financial data reflect allocations and spending through July 31 or Aug. 5.

1 — Estimate; spending can change based on needs