Early Stimulus Spending Trickles to a Few Places in Md.

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 24, 2009

For Donavin Petre, 2009 started off as the worst of years. After he was laid off from his job as a diesel mechanic at a Baltimore truck shop in January, the first time he has been unemployed since he was 14, Petre found himself with no health insurance and no prospects for his family of three.

"It was terrifying," said Petre, 32, on a recent afternoon at his house in Edgemere, an industrial suburb of Baltimore. For months, with the recession getting worse, his daily job search went nowhere. "You're like, 'Oh man, just let us get through this without a trip to the hospital.' But a lot of places wouldn't even take a résumé. Nobody was hiring."

Then, 40 miles down the road, Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus package, and Maryland quickly launched the first road project in the United States funded with that money, repaving a bumpy stretch of New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring. Petre got lucky. A small piece of that $1.8 million project landed with a local sign company just as he came looking for work.

"They just hired me to put up signs, but, hey, if it feeds my family, I'll dig a hundred holes a week," he said. "Now when I go to bed, I know I have a job to go to."

While a debate rages among economists and politicians about the depth and longevity of a stimulus-sparked recovery, the money has brought a dramatic reversal of fortune for those businesses and workers lucky enough to catch some of the early spending. For them, a spring that was shaping up as one of the bleakest in memory is instead looking like a much-needed boom.

But a close look also shows that the turnaround has yet to reach beyond workers' wallets into the rest of the economy. So far, at least, cautious beneficiaries seem more likely to use their windfall wages to pay off old debts than launch new spending sprees.

"The only celebration I had was paying the electric bill," said truck salesman Troy Thacker of how he used the $500 commission he earned in April from the sale of two Ford F-350s to Petre's new employer, Sunrise Safety Services of Glen Burnie. The $66,000 sale, made possible by Sunrise's stimulus contracts, marked a rare bright day in the worst month of Thacker's 16 years at Koons Ford in Baltimore.

But not bright enough to send him on a spending bender.

"I'm still being careful," he said.

Just how deep into the economy the stimulus spending will penetrate is a matter of much debate among academics and local officials. In road and bridge spending alone, the program will spread $27.5 billion across the country, which the White House says will create and preserve more than 299,000 jobs.

Maryland is in line to get $431 million of that money, which state officials estimate will create or support about 12,000 jobs. The state has solicited or awarded bids on 92 projects worth $271.5 million. (Virginia will receive more than $694 million and the District more than $123 million.)

Critics say those jobs won't survive once the stimulus spending stops unless the underlying economy picks up. But on a short-term basis, even skeptical economists agree that massive government spending can progress through the supply chain like dominos in reverse, uprighting the finances of businesses, workers and retailers.

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