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WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Work on more than 40 percent of infrastructure projects spurred by the federal stimulus plan is complete, a Congressional panel said on Thursday, as the $814 billion package of spending and tax measures enters its final months.
While the plan, which expires in December, included just $38 billion for highway, transit and wastewater projects, the American public has scrutinized how it has been spent and how it has impacted the labor market.
Much of the money was to be dedicated to “shovel-ready” projects that could quickly create work for unemployed construction workers.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said that 19,037 projects representing $35.1 billion of the stimulus funds have been put out to bid and work has begun on 17,820 projects representing $34.1 billion.
Work is already finished on 7,889 of those projects, representing $6.3 billion, the committee said.
Democrats have focused more on bidding and the number of contracts signed, saying that is when workers are hired and the money begins to affect employment levels.
Republicans in Congress have said that the money only has impact when it is spent and have worried that the funds are not reaching states quickly enough.
The stimulus projects for repairing highways and bridges are under way in Maine, New Hampshire, Utah and Wyoming, the committee said.
President Barack Obama’s administration has dubbed this the “Summer of Recovery,” because it expected to see most of the infrastructure projects in the plan -- which is also known as the recovery act -- completed.
Hawaii comes last in the committee’s rankings of stimulus infrastructure spending. In that state, only two-thirds of the projects granted to the state are under way and just 77 percent have been put out to bid.
Construction employment rose in 26 states in July and dropped in 23 states, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. Over the past six months, 43 states and Washington, D.C. shed construction jobs.
The housing bubble that burst nearly three years ago ravaged the market for construction workers, with developers turning away from the projects that had provided those workers’ livelihoods.
There are few prospects for improvement in the near term -- a government report on Wednesday showed that new U.S. home sales fell to the slowest pace on record in July -- but stimulus projects have offered some relief, according to the committee chair.
“The economic stimulus provided by the Recovery Act has created millions of jobs, and is helping to put the nation back on the road to economic growth,” said Rep. James Oberstar.
This week the Congressional Budget Office said that the plan, passed in February 2009, increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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