I-Team: Scrutinizing Stimulus Spending

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CBS4 Investigates
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A year after it passed the US Congress, the American Economic Recovery Act is being hailed as a victory by its supporters. But it has been criticized as a big deficit creator by its detractors.

So the CBS4 I-Team decided to dig into the dollars and dig up the truth. CBS4 I-Team investigator Stephen Stock looks at the stimulus package one year into the program.

One year ago a $550 Million project was just a dream on a drawing board. Now thanks to the US Stimulus package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) construction is now going full tilt to widen, fix, and improve the interchange at the Palmetto and Dolphin expressways.

While standing on the interchange construction site, Florida’s Department of Transportation’s District 6 Secretary Gus Pego said the progress shows how the US Stimulus bill is working.

“Behind us you can see it’s finally being delivered,” Secretary Pego said. “We’re going to be living it for about five years of construction. But the benefits we’re going to obtain for generations to come.”

That’s why Secretary Pego and Congressional Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Kendrick Meek joined Miami-Dade commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz at a news conference to champion the one year anniversary.

They said it’s a sign of the success of the stimulus package which has meant $402,300,000 in awarded projects so far in Florida alone.

Supporters say the stimulus package (American Recovery Act) has created or saved 29,321 jobs in Florida so far.

“We’ve really been phenomenally successful at bringing funds to South Florida creating jobs, saving jobs so we can rehire people,” US Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said. “We just need to keep getting the word out.”

But the CBS4 I-Team has dug further and found questionable stimulus spending too. These are projects that, by federal officials own admission, create or save few to no jobs.

Take for instance, Florida Atlantic University: It has been awarded $213,750 in stimulus dollars to study the venom of cone snails.

At Florida International University, one research project received $59,402 in U.S. stimulus dollars to study the physiology of juvenile mosquitoes.

Another project was awarded $648,737 to develop and study marijuana use among Latino 10th and 11th graders.

“When you have the deployment of these dollars and mosquitoes, that’s something I didn’t vote for the stimulus package to do,” US Representative Kendrick Meek said.

“But I can tell you there have been a lot of positive things towards it,” the Democrat from Miami-Dade said. “The accountability piece to be able to uncover those kinds of deployments of those dollars is key and transparent. And it (transparency) hasn’t been there in the past.”

Even critics admit that the stimulus package has turned things around economically and halted America’s slide towards a depression.

But problems with the stimulus package remain. The I-Team’s analysis of stimulus grants here in South Florida show 75 different projects have been awarded more than $93,146,211 with no jobs created.

Representative Meek said he wants to see more jobs created as the stimulus package goes forward, with the largest amount of money yet to be spent.

Representative Wasserman Schultz said that money is expected to hit the streets in the next four to six months.

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