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Pay raises used to tally number of jobs saved by stimulus

By Brett J. Blackledge and Matt Apuzzo
Associated Press / November 5, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The government’s latest tally of stimulus jobs counted pay increases for existing workers as jobs saved in a popular federal preschool program, raising fresh questions about the process the Obama administration is using to tout the success of its $787 billion economic recovery plan.

A review of the latest stimulus reports - which the White House promised would undergo extensive reviews to ensure accuracy - found that more than two-thirds of 14,506 jobs credited to the recovery act by Head Start programs involved pay increases.

Health and Human Services spokesman Luis Rosero defended the practice. “If I give you a raise, it is going to save a portion of your job,’’ he said.

But Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Republican House minority leader John Boehner, retorted, “That’s more than ridiculous.’’

Elizabeth Oxhorn, a spokeswoman for the White House recovery office, said the Obama administration was reviewing the Head Start data “to determine how and if it will be counted.’’

Most of the inflated figures were like those cited in the 935 saved jobs reported by the Southwest Georgia Community Action in Moultrie, Ga.

Director Myrtis Mulkey-Ndawula said she followed the guidelines the Obama administration provided and multiplied her 508 employees by 1.84 - the percentage pay raise they received - and came up with 935 jobs saved.

“I would say it’s confusing at best,’’ she said. “But we followed the instructions we were given.’’

The raises were appropriate because the stimulus law set aside money for Head Start salary increases, but converting that number into jobs saved proved difficult. The Obama administration told Head Start officials to consider a fraction of each employee as a job saved. Many Head Start programs around the country went further, counting everyone who received a raise as a saved job.

More than 250 other community agencies receiving stimulus cash from the HHS Administration for Children and Families similarly reported saving jobs when using the money to give pay raises, pay for training and continuing education, extend employee work hours, or buy equipment, according to their spending reports.