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Counties suffering the most from job losses stand to receive the least help from President Barack Obama's plan to spend billions of stimulus dollars on roads and bridges, an Associated Press analysis has found.
Although the intent of the money is to put people back to work, AP's review of more than 5,500 planned transportation projects nationwide reveals that states are planning to spend the stimulus in communities where jobless rates are already lower. The analysis also found that counties with the highest unemployment are most likely to have been passed over completely in the early spending.
Among them: Wheeler County, Ore.; Steuben County, Ind.; Macon County, Ga.; and Crowley County, Colo., Vermillion County, Ind.; Lapeer County, Mich.; Presidio County, Texas; Tallahatchi County, Miss.
"We cannot wait," Vice President Joe Biden said last week when announcing a $30 million transit project in his hometown of Wilmington, Del., where the 7.7 percent unemployment rate remains below the national average. "We're spending a lot of time and money. Why? It's about ... jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. That's why we cannot wait."
"That's the core of my plan, putting people to work doing the work that America needs done," Obama said in a Feb. 11 speech promoting transportation spending as a way to expand employment.
AP reviewed $18.9 billion in projects, the most complete picture available of where states plan to spend the first wave of highway money. The projects account for about half of the $38 billion set aside for states and local governments to spend on roads, bridges and infrastructure in the stimulus plan.
The very promise that Obama made, to spend money quickly and create jobs, is locking out many struggling communities needing those jobs. The money goes to projects ready to start. But many struggling communities don't have projects waiting on a shelf. They couldn't afford the millions of dollars for preparation and plans that often is required.
The early trend seen in the AP analysis runs counter to expectations raised by Obama, that road and infrastructure money from the historic $787 billion stimulus plan would create jobs in areas most devastated by layoffs and plant closings. Transportation money, he said, would mean paychecks for "folks looking for work" and "folks who want to work."
The AP findings suggest the White House raised expectations too high for the transportation spending, said a spokesman for Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Needy communities are not benefiting most from transportation money, spokesman Jim Berard said.
"To some extent I think the administration oversold the transportation aspect of this," Berard said. "It was sold as the heart and soul of the package and it really just isn't."