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September 21, 2021

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Stimulus job-count guidelines frustrate

State comptroller says ‘no standards’ for tallying results

Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

Forgive the average citizen if the federal stimulus does not appear to him as transparent as promised.

The federal government says that in Nevada the stimulus has directly created or saved 5,658 jobs. The state itself puts that number at 5,080. Sen. Harry Reid’s office says it’s 6,134.

When it comes to measuring the direct effect of the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into Nevada from the federal American Recovery Relief Act, it has become clear that, so far, little is clear.

Not only do the numbers not match up, but instead of representing real bodies in actual jobs, the numbers are estimates — the result of different state agencies using different formulas to calculate stimulus results.

Some local governments, for example, have been told to take the amount of stimulus money they received and divide it by $92,000, the theoretical average wage and benefits of a job. The Nevada Department of Education used $66,681 for its calculation of an average wage and benefit for K-12 employees. And the state’s higher education system figured it at $45,000.

The amorphous jobs numbers have frustrated some legislators, who were left disappointed this week when they tried to figure out how many jobs had been saved or created by the stimulus.

“The original intent of the stimulus was the creation of jobs,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said at a legislative hearing on the stimulus Tuesday. “I question the credibility in my own mind of the reports we’re receiving ... I don’t think we’re really getting, or the public is really getting, an accurate picture of what the stimulus is creating with respect to jobs.”

Most of the jobs the stimulus is credited with creating or saving in Nevada are in education, with more than 2,000 each in the higher education and K-12 systems.

Yet, Raggio said, “I don’t for a moment believe that 4,000 teachers would have been laid off if not for the stimulus.”

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, chairwoman of the Legislature’s stimulus oversight committee, said the purpose of the stimulus was threefold — create jobs, offer tax relief and keep programs such as unemployment assistance and Medicaid going.

“Without the stimulus, there would have been significant cuts to education,” she said, though she acknowledged that quantifying that number is difficult. Still, she sees the stimulus as a benefit.

“Quite frankly, unemployment would have been higher without the stimulus,” she said.

The American Recovery and Relief Act was passed by Congress this year. President Barack Obama said its goal was to create or save 3 million jobs over the next two years and promised an unprecedented level of transparency tracking its progress.

“I wouldn’t say they’re making up numbers, but there are no standards or consistency,” said Nevada Controller Kim Wallin, a Democrat.

Wallin attended a national conference in Washington, D.C., this week along with the governor’s staff, and the bulk of complaints from various state officials centered on how they were supposed to report jobs.

In the months after the stimulus passed, the federal Office of Management and Budget had been guiding states on how to report jobs. Then, in late August or September, it let federal agencies dictate additional guidelines to their state counterparts, Wallin said.

For example, the Nevada Forestry Department had calculated that a project in rural Nevada created 34 jobs under the first guidelines. Under more recent direction, the project was estimated to have created nine jobs, Wallin said.

The federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board — known to stimulus junkies as the “rat board” — acknowledged that erroneous figures have been reported and promised improvements as the process goes forward.

“The recovery board has said all along that we anticipated mistakes in this first-ever effort to collect data from recipients of federal recovery dollars,” spokeswoman Cheryl Arvidson said. “Many of these mistakes are the result of innocent human error inputting data. There also have been mistakes because of confusion as to what to report and how to calculate the information that is reported.”

Wallin said she hopes the guidelines on calculating job figures would be ready for the next reporting period, in January.

“It was unreasonable to think that this would be just perfect. There’s never been an undertaking of this magnitude before,” she said. “We need to have new guidelines sooner rather than later.”

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