In R.I., mixed picture on stimulus impact

In part because of its sheer size, gauging the effects of last year’s $787 billion stimulus law on Rhode Island’s economy isn’t easy. More

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In R.I., mixed picture on stimulus impact

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
STIMULATING EFFECTS: Blount Boats employees Brian Laquerre, middle, and John Aguiar, foreground, add supports to hold up the deck of a boat. The company was approved for ARRA funding but must come up with a 25 percent match of $289,000.
Posted 1/25/10

It’s been nearly a year since the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) was approved by Congress and Rhode Island started receiving its more than $1.25 billion share.

In part because of its sheer size, however, getting a handle on the ARRA’s effects on the Ocean State economy isn’t easy. While some affected businesses have clearly profited, others have seen limited benefits or been unable to meet eligibility requirements.

For Fred Sarmento, the federal stimulus money is just what Fleet Construction Co. needed to weather what could have been a fatally slow period.

Cumberland-based Fleet, where Sarmento is a project manager, was involved in two projects funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: the $1.1 million reconstruction of a runway at state-owned Newport Airport and a $2.43 million road-improvement project on Nate Whipple Highway in Cumberland.

In an ultra-competitive climate, the bids were kept extremely low.

“We didn’t make any money,” Sarmento acknowledged last week. “But we kept people busy.”

For Warren-based Blount Boats Inc., however, the federal stimulus experience has been somewhat frustrating. The 60-year-old shipyard was selected last year for a grant to purchase $1.16 million worth of equipment. The problem: Blount must kick in a 25 percent match – $289,000 – in order to get the grant.

“That’s a tall order for us in this environment,” said Marcia Blount, the company president. “Cash is tight.”

And so the government’s $868,000 share of the grant sits unused for now.

The federal government estimates the stimulus spending has created or saved more than 2,000 jobs in Rhode Island, a number based on statements from those receiving funding. Some state officials acknowledge that, in many cases, those were short-term positions that have since ended.

Meanwhile, the R.I. Office of Economic Recovery and Reinvestment – which is overseeing the state’s disbursements of ARRA – says the state has spent $551.25 million, or about 44 percent, of its $1.26 billion portion of the federal package as of Jan. 9.

The spending has ranged from $178.71 million for a medical-assistance program overseen by the R.I. Department of Human Services to $3.72 million for a Rhode Island Housing tax credit assistance program, and $4.3 million in grants awarded to local educational agencies serving poor children.

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