White House holds ‘We Can’t Wait’ funds for almost four years

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The administration has waited three years and seven months to implement a new “We Can’t Wait” project that redirects unspent appropriations to fund new construction projects.

The wait delayed the spending announcement until 11 weeks prior to the November election.

The announcement is part of the administration’s “We Can’t Wait” effort, which highlights the president’s authority to change spending, law enforcement priorities and regulations, independent of Congress and the courts.

The redirected $473 million includes funds from appropriation laws passed up to 10 years ago, Josh Easton, the White House’ deputy press secretary, announced Aug. 17.

“Instead of seeing these funds sit idle… we’ll use them to put Americans back to work,” he said. “Some of them are nearly 10 years old,” he announced.

However, even though the money is being released, it is unlikely to have any impact on the economy for several months. That’s because federal funds come with many regulatory and paperwork requirements that need to be processed.

Those requirements greatly reduced the economic impact of the $787 billion 2009 stimulus bill.

In June 2011, President Barack Obama admitted the paperwork had slowed the allocation of 2009 stimulus money intended for construction programs. “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected,” Obama joked during a Jobs and Competitiveness Council meeting in Durham, N.C.

However, Friday’s announcement does not recognize the likely delays.

“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” said an Aug. 17 statement from Obama. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”

The statement was titled “Obama Administration on Idle Earmark Projects: Use It or Lose It ‘We Can’t Wait’ Action Helps States Put People to Work, Improve Infrastructure.”

The $473 million was appropriated in the 2003 to 2006 fiscal years, but was not actually spent.

“Those acts contain provisions that authorize the Secretary to make the unused funds available for eligible surface transportation projects,” said the statement. “Effective today, state departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.”

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