The Stimulus: States Getting the Most Money So Far

The states with the highest populations do not always win out.


The Obama stimulus bill is now one year old, and it is as controversial now as it was when it first passed. Last week, in the wake of the anniversary, the White House released the first Annual Report to the President on Progress Implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which defends the stimulus against criticisms that it has failed to produce jobs. But just as controversial as the question of whether or not the stimulus has worked is the question of where the money is going. Local newspapers from Nevada to Florida have bemoaned the lack of stimulus spending their states have received relative to their populations, despite the severe damage the housing crash had on their local economies. In an initial assessment of the stimulus last year, the Center for American Progress found that Rhode Island, Alaska, New York, Vermont, and New Jersey would receive the most money per capita, and Utah, Colorado, Virginia, Texas, and Florida would receive the least. 

[See 21 Things We're Learning to Live Without.] 

One year later, the picture of where the money is going looks a bit different. That's because nowhere near all of the stimulus dollars have been allocated yet. The federal government has obligated—or committed to spend—$334 billion of the $787 billion stimulus. Of that $334 billion, about half—$179 billion—has actually been spent in the economy in the form of outlays. The Recovery Act also has put forth $119 billion in tax cuts. 

[See Why Politicians Can't Create Real Jobs.] 

The White House's Annual Report shows where the money that the federal government has obligated so far has gone. California, as the largest state, received the most money, $34.8 billion. But Texas, the second-most-populous state, received $19.3 billion—less than the third-most-populous state, New York ($23.4 billion). The population inconsistencies do not end there. U.S. News calculated the per capita obligated spending for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, based on the data for obligated spending and the 2009 state population estimates by the Census Bureau. Here are the states, ranked by their per capita obligated spending. 

1. District of Columbia: $5,170

2. Alaska: $1,718

3. Vermont: $1,320

4. Massachusetts: $1,274

5. Rhode Island: $1,234

6. New York: $1,197

7. North Dakota: $1,164

8. Maine: $1,138

9. Montana: $1,128

10. South Dakota: $1,123

11. Wyoming: $1,099

12. Delaware: $1,086

13. Michigan: $1,073

14. Oregon: $1,046

15. Connecticut: $1,023

16. Indiana: $1,012

17. Hawaii: $1,004

18. Pennsylvania: $992

19. New Jersey: $988

20. Nevada: $984

21. Minnesota: $968

22. Illinois: $953

23. New Mexico: $945

24. Washington: $945

25. California: $942

26. Wisconsin: $937

27. Oklahoma: $922

28. Iowa: $898

29. Ohio: $892

30. Mississippi: $881

31. West Virginia: $879

32. Arizona: $864

33. North Carolina: $863

34. Maryland: $860

35. Tennessee: $858

36. Kentucky: $858

37. South Carolina: $855

38. Missouri: $852

39. Idaho: $841

40. Arkansas: $831

41. New Hampshire: $831

42. Alabama: $828

43. Louisiana: $824

44. Florida: $804

45. Georgia: $804

46. Colorado: $796

47. Kansas: $780

48. Texas: $779

49. Nebraska: $724

50. Utah: $682

51. Virginia: $647

Politics has played some role in deciding which states get a bigger slice of the pie than others. "States where legislators are particularly influential can get a better deal on the infrastructure portion of the stimulus," says Josh Barro, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who studies tax and fiscal policy. But infrastructure spending is not even the biggest chunk of the money, and there are other areas where lobbying has not made much of a difference. The stimulus program with the most obligated dollars has been aid to state Medicaid programs, at $54.3 billion. States that already spend large amounts on Medicaid are automatically due for more aid under the stimulus. For example, "New York's high Medicaid spending obligated it for more money," says Barro. 

Another stimulus program that explains why some states have received less money per person is unemployment insurance. The stimulus has offered aid to state unemployment insurance programs but with strings attached: States accepting this money must make permanent changes to expand unemployment insurance benefits. Several states—especially those with Republican governors, such as Texas—declined to cooperate because they did not want to go along with these changes.

economic stimulus
Obama, Barack