MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Now, we're going to follow the money, or at least try to. We're going to here how three states are preparing for and, in one case, already spending their share of the economic stimulus.
BLOCK: Some of that money is already on its way. This was President Obama's message to the nation's governors, meeting at the White House on Monday.
President BARACK OBAMA: By the time most of you get home, money will be waiting to help 20 million vulnerable Americans in your states keep their health care coverage.
(Soundbite of applause)
BLOCK: Mr. Obama was referring to $15 billion for state Medicaid programs, that's some of the first money to be sent out.
NPR's Martin Kaste went to the marbled halls of the State House in Olympia, Washington, to try to find it.
MARTIN KASTE: Three hundred and thirty-nine million dollars, that's Washington State's share of that extra stimulus funding for Medicaid. The White House says the money should have arrived by now, so I've come here to the State Capitol Building to ask around and see if someone's witnessed the money come in.
What's odd is how blase the state employees here seem about what amounts to a nine-figure check. Nicholas Lutes, the governor's budget assistant for health care spending, says in this state health care for the poor won't necessarily improve because of the arrival of this money.
Mr. NICHOLAS LUTES (Budget Assistant to the Governor, Washington): The poor -those that are on Medicaid will not see a change in their services. All it really is is a change in who's paying the bill, ultimately.
KASTE: He says the Feds are upping their share of the cost of Medicaid by at least six or seven percentage points. If Lutes seems less than excited, it may be because this increase is temporary, and he's already worrying about the hole that'll be left in the state budget when the federal contribution drops back down again.
Still, the stimulus money will be nice to have, he says. He's just not waiting for it with bated breath.
Mr. LUTES: I don't have a little, red button on my desk that goes off, or we're not going to get a big novelty check, but somebody will know that it went came across.
KASTE: Lutes points me in the direction of the state's accountants. In an office building full of CPAs and padlock file cabinets, Wendy Weeks scrolls down a computer screen showing the most recent payments to the state.
Ms. WENDY WEEKS (State Accountant, Washington): You can see one here for, yeah, 84 million.
KASTE: Eighty-four million seven hundred and eighty-two thousand five hundred and thirty-five dollars and ten cents, do you have any idea what that's for?
Ms. WEEKS: That one, no, I do not.
KASTE: There's no sign of that telltale amount of $339 million. But just when it seems we'll never find the stimulus money, Wendy Jarrett, the manager of statewide accounting, saves the day.
Ms. WENDY JARRETT (Manager, Statewide Accounting Services, Washington): Well, I talked to the people over at the Department of Social and Health Services, and here's the fax they just sent me.
It's a screen print from a computer system that manages federal payments. It's just four lines of data and numeric codes and a dollar amount.
Ms. JARRETT: Three hundred and thirty-nine million three hundred thirty thousand seven hundred and seventeen dollars.
KASTE: There it is, the state's first stimulus money. Except it's not actually in state hands yet. This printout is a sort of promissory note. The Feds won't send the money until the state's Medicaid administrators jump through a few more hoops.
Ms. JARRETT: Apparently, they have to take the actual transactions and actually back it all out of the cost allocation system and re-run it through. I understand it's quite a bit of work.
KASTE: We'll take the CPA's word on that one. The upshot is the stimulus money has been promised, and the states are already writing it in to their Medicaid budgets. In the world of government accounting, those four lines on that screen printout are almost as good as money in the bank.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.
TED ROBBINS: I'm Ted Robbins at UMC, University Medical Center in Tucson. Arizona hospitals are also counting on stimulus money to help pay for services to low-income patients. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, known as AHCCCS, is this state's version of Medicaid. Fully half the $4 billion the state is getting in stimulus money will go toward AHCCCS.
UMC's Katie Riley says the money will actually prevent cuts.
Ms. KATIE RILEY (University Medical Center, Arizona): Yes, at least at our hospital where we have been anticipating cuts of 10 to 12 million, we hope this will be a stopgap.
(Soundbite of traffic)
ROBBINS: A big chunk of money is also going to the Arizona Transportation Department for projects like traffic status signs and cameras on this stretch of Interstate 10. The state has identified dozens of projects like this but it has not yet decided which projects will get money first.
Some stimulus projects are set. The Tucson International Airport will get security improvements - more cameras, better fencing. But improvements to the airport apron, the place where jets park, will not get money.
The airport's Jill Merrick says things are changing so fast, an airport staff member checks twice a day to see what will and won't be funded.
Ms. JILL MERRICK (Tucson International Airport): It's literally been day by day. Literally day by day. And so it is a moving target.
ROBBINS: But she says construction of the security improvements will begin within a month.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
BLOCK: So, we've heard from Arizona, where they're making plans to spend the stimulus money. And from Washington State, where a bureaucrat showed us the first federal allocation for Medicaid. Now, to a place where the transportation projects have already begun even before money for those projects has arrived.
(Soundbite of traffic)
MISSY SHELTON: I'm Missy Shelton, and I'm here at Jernigan Constructions Quarry just outside of Springfield, Missouri. The rock that's being gathered here at this quarry will go into the asphalt that - thanks for the federal stimulus package - will make the ride on a nearby highway smoother and safer for drivers.
Missouri Department of Transportation officials knew that they wanted to be the first in the country to put the stimulus dollars to use.
Mr. KIRK JURANAS (District Engineer, Missouri Department of Transportation): Right as soon as the president signed it, we went ahead and made our announcement.
SHELTON: That's Kirk Juranas, a district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Mr. JURANAS: And it's so important to the public that when we're provided funds to do transportation projects that we don't sit on our hands, and we deliver them quickly and we open the projects fast.
SHELTON: Fast is the key word here. Transportation officials approved a list of projects back in December, in anticipation of the stimulus bill passing. And on February 17th, within minutes of the president signing the legislation, work begin on four projects.
That was good news for John View(ph), vice president of Jernigan Construction, who can now hire back 40 employees he laid off.
Mr. JOHN VIEW (Vice President, Jernigan Construction): It's a big family here and it's important to get those people back to work. That's our goal, it's to keep them working.
(Soundbite of traffic)
SHELTON: I'm headed west on Highway 60 on the two-lane highway that will benefit from the federal stimulus funding and will be widened in certain areas, giving drivers a chance to pass slow-moving vehicles.
And I'm in luck today because I'm behind a truck that's going 60 miles per hour, which is the legal speed limit. But oftentimes drivers get behind vehicles that are moving much slower than that, and really have only a limited opportunity to pass them.
Mr. CLIFTON WALLACE(ph): I have sat in here and seen probably a dozen accidents out here on 60 Highway.
SHELTON: Highway 60 runs in front of Clifton Wallace's auto repair shop in Billings, Missouri. He says improving the road will help prevent accidents and could also give his business a boost.
Mr. WALLACE: Any time you have a better road you have more traffic. And when you have more traffic you have more business.
SHELTON: Missouri transportation officials say their quick response to the stimulus package shows just how desperately they needed the money and how quickly they're putting it to use.
For NPR News, I'm Missy Shelton in Springfield, Missouri.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.