Tennessee: State stimulus up to $4.5 billion

Tennessee: State stimulus up to $4.5 billion

March 7th, 2009 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

NASHVILLE - Tennessee's estimated share of federal stimulus funds has grown by nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in two weeks to $4.5 billion, according to the latest Bredesen administration estimates.

The bulk of the increase involves some $608 million from increased federal food stamp benefits that are largely pass-through federal dollars to poor Tennesseans.


Tennessee will receive $4.5 billion from the federal government. Allocations include:

Education $775 million

Medicaid $1.1 billion

Highways and bridges $572 million

Food stamp benefits $608 million

Child care $41.9 million

Community Services Block Grant program $19.6 million

Temporary Emergency Food Assistance program $2 million

FEMA emergency food and shelter $2 million

Vocational rehabilitation $12.1 million

K-12 Title I grants $194 million

School improvement $50 million

lndividuals with Disabilities Education Act $245 million

HUD's HOME program $39 million

Education technology $12 million

School lunch equipment $1.9 million

Homelessness prevention $13 million

Head Start program $13 million

Source: Federal Funds Information for States, Tennessee Budget Office

But the state also would see increases in areas such as an additional $32 million over two years for child support enforcement, a category not previously even cited. Grants to local schools systems would rise from $174.2 million to $194.1 million - almost $20 million, figures show.

That money was not included in the state's $3.77 billion estimate of the stimulus' impact on Tennessee provided to lawmakers on Feb. 18.

The omissions on food stamps and child-support money illustrate the confusion Tennessee is experiencing about how much money the state will see as well as requirements it must meet to get its share of the $787 billion federal stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed into law Feb. 17.

"The numbers keep shifting around," Gov. Phil Bredesen said Friday.

The governor cited as an example a provision involving $141 million in stimulus funds to help unemployed Tennesseans.

The state must change at least three provisions in order to take the money. State officials thought the cost to the state of changing one provision was $10 million over a six-year period.

"We had a call from the Department of Labor this morning with new guidance on how to do this which increased the cost to about $200 million," Gov. Bredesen said of the proposed change, which was immediately discarded.

The stimulus package changes "almost on a daily basis," said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the Senate speaker.

"It's amazing," he said. "We hear one thing on Monday and then by Wednesday it's different and Friday it's something else. That's what's so frightening about the stimulus package in general."

Tennessee's stimulus funds include more than $2 billion coming directly to the state. But a lot of the funds, as evidenced by the food stamps issue, go directly to residents or to local governments or local agencies.

Earlier this week, Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz told House Finance Committee members "it's a learning process about the stimulus, I'll have to say. We're all trying to sort through what's happening."

Some lawmakers are voicing frustration not so much with Washington but with the Bredesen administration over issues.

House Finance Commission Chairman Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, put Mr. Goetz on the spot as to why the Transportation Department abruptly announced it has contracted out 10 stimulus-funded bridge projects without most members' knowledge.

"I'm just concerned by next week comes the education (funding) or something," he said. "I think the members certainly deserve as much concrete information that we can have."

He said Web sites of two major legislative organizations note several fast-approaching deadlines "to do things or risk losing this money" in some areas.

Mr. Goetz replied there is "a lot to do now, but we've been kind of heads down on our own budget and prepared to make final decisions on that so we can begin the (budget) reconciliation process."

The administration hopes to present its already-delayed budget between March 23 and March 30, he said.

Mr. Goetz said that meanwhile, the administration is "assembling the team that will be responsible for making sure we will meet those dates, and we have all the necessary agencies involved in managing those funds and we do all the necessary reporting."