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Not so long ago, we shared some of Dempsey Benton’s thoughts about what worked well with the stimulus during his time heading up North Carolina’s Office of Economic Recovery and Investment. What does Benton think could have been done better?
For starters, he thinks the stimulus dollars were divided into too narrowly focused programs. “They should have collapsed some of those programs into broader categories,” he says. “There should not have been that many different programs.” He explains that North Carolina alone was managing dozens of separate governmental programs, requiring numerous different state agencies to interact with their federal counterparts. He mentions, for example, more than $3 million that the state received that was dedicated to school lunch facility equipment.
That raises Benton’s second concern about some of the “built-in challenges” of the stimulus. “There were pieces of the legislation that jumped out as problematic,” with parts of the legislation too narrowly focused on particular groups or entities to enhance the creation of jobs more broadly. He is careful to note that, in all, this accounted for a small portion of the whole, but was a frustration to states nonetheless.
As an example, he says that the Recovery Act’s weatherization funding “restricted states to using regional community action agencies that had historically provided the weatherization programs.” Problematically, though, that historical funding had been only a fraction of the dollars that ARRA directed to weatherization, meaning that those providers were often overwhelmed or unable to weatherize as quickly as the money would allow. “It restricted states from being more inclusive of management groups. That was frustrating from the standpoint of delivering the goods.”
He also points to the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage criteria that “added a bureaucratic load to states.” As we’ve reported in the past, the Davis-Bacon criteria did create headaches for many states and delayed some programs.
Bottom line, he says, “The stimulus should have allowed the states more flexibility.”