Responding to criticism that the stimulus package is being spent too slowly and in the wrong places, Transpiration Secretary Ray LaHood will argue on Thursday that the administration is "actually ahead of schedule" in terms of rolling out money and projects.
In a speech at the National Press Club, LaHood is expected to make the case that the Department of Transportation is operating at a historic pace, creating jobs where work is needed and producing an economic ripple effect that should have long-term employment ramifications.
"To be sure, the American public, and the media, have a perfect right to question whether the government can actually push more than 780 billion dollars out the door quickly enough to fight the recession and make a difference." LaHood will say, according to excerpts of his remarks provided to the Huffington Post. "In fact, that's exactly what we're doing. The DOT has made more money available to states, more quickly, than any of our routine programs."
LaHood's speech comes as the press has turned a critical eye to the rollout of the Obama stimulus package. In a May 11 analysis piece, the Associated Press concluded that the recovery package was shortchanging "counties that need the work the most." The review of 5,500 planned transportation projects showed, they reported, that states were "planning to spend 50 percent more per person in areas with the lowest unemployment than in communities with the highest."
While not addressing the report head on (the transportation department is conducting its own analysis), LaHood will push back hard against the findings. He will note that the department is spending nearly $4 billion a month on the highway portion of the stimulus package (versus the traditional $2 billion a month rate), that "the FAA has already made nearly 100 percent of its recovery funds available for hundreds of airport construction projects all over the country;" and that the Federal Transit Administration is poised to pump 640 million dollars into urban and rural economies. On a whole, DOT has made nearly $13 billion in stimulus funds available since the package was passed in mid-February. This money, he will argue, is having an impact regardless of where it goes.
"Every job that puts an unemployed breadwinner back to work, so he or she can support a family, is an important job. And it has a ripple effect," LaHood will say. "Every job that attracts a worker who cannot find employment elsewhere is filling a need, no matter where it happens to be. If you simply reduce the Recovery Act to a scorecard, then you're missing the real value of this effort. It's about people. Their livelihood. And their ability to continue contributing to society."
"Many of these companies that pour concrete, repave roads, and rebuild bridges were on the verge of laying off hundreds of people," he will add. "But when they saw the stimulus package coming down the pike, they said, let's hold on. Let's keep these people on the payroll and see what happens. We're not just talking about hourly workers -- we're talking about salaried employees like estimators and engineers. And now, because many of these companies have stimulus contracts, they're not only able to keep the people that have been with them for years, they're also hiring new employees -- and re-hiring people they laid off earlier."