Montana has taken in more federal economic stimulus dollars than all but two other states, according to data compiled by the investigative website Pro Publica.

Montana raked in $1,744 of recovery dollars for every citizen. That’s 33 percent higher than the national average of $1,170 per capita.

Only Alaska, at $3,145, and South Dakota, at $1,781, received more dollars per resident from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act than Montana.

According to Pro Publica, Montana received $1,687,028,601 in stimulus funds.

Residents of sparsely populated Carter County, in the southeastern corner of the state, benefitted the most from federal recovery funds. That county, which has a population of about 1,230 and an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent in 2009, received $11,064,503, or $8,966 per capita. The vast majority of those funds, $10.9 million, were allocated to paving State Secondary Highway 323 between Ekalaka and Alzada.

Lewis and Clark County, with a population of approximately 61,000 and an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in 2009, received the most money of any county in the state and the second highest per capital dollar amount, at $7,267. The $442,754,721 that county received accounted for more than a quarter of all stimulus funding received by the state, according to Pro Publica’s figures.

The reason so many recovery dollars flowed through Lewis and Clark County is because it is home to the state’s capital, where most state agencies are headquartered.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services received $197,518,886 for items such as Medicaid payments, low-income childcare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, weatherization assistance and foster care. The Department of Environmental Quality took in $70,017,920 for things such as energy conservation programs, clean drinking water programs and environmental cleanups. The Department of Labor and Industry took in $55,815,027, mostly for unemployment insurance benefits.

Cascade County was ranked 21st in the state for per capita stimulus spending at $1,203. The federal government pumped $98,660,809 in recovery grants and loans into that county.

The bulk of that money was funded through the Army and Air Force.

The Army contracted San Diego, Calif.-based Sunstar LLC to perform $23,861,200 worth of repairs to foundations on 179 Minuteman Village houses on Malmstrom Air Force Base. Two other contractors received $165,435 for their part in the reconstruction project.

The Air Force spent another $19,047,332 on other repairs and renovations at the base.

Garfield County, in east-central Montana, received the least amount of federal recovery dollars in the state, at $27,132, or $23 per capita. All of that money went to the Jordon School District to improve teaching and learning for students most at risk of failing to meet state academic achievement standards.

A spokesman for Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, said it’s no surprise Montana is high on the list of per capita stimulus spending, given the unique geography of the state.

“In rural states like Montana, we have more roads that need repaired, longer distances to deliver drinking water, a vast border to secure and a lot of small communities whose physical infrastructure is falling apart,” Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said. “Jon supported the Recovery Act because it’s creating jobs rebuilding rural America and Montana’s economy.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican who voted against the act, said the success of the stimulus shouldn’t be measured by how fast it spends borrowed money, but by the number of jobs it creates.

“Since the so-called stimulus passed, unemployment has swelled to nearly 10 percent and millions of American jobs have been destroyed. And while the unemployment rate in Montana continues to rise, the only sector that’s seen steady job creation is the government,” Rehberg wrote in an e-mail. “By any measure, this stimulus has not done what it was meant to do and has put America further in debt.”

John Adams began his professional career in 2001 in Idaho Falls, ID writing and editing for a variety of trade magazines. He covered topics ranging from potato and sugar beet farming to skate park and playground construction and maintenance. Adams started his newspaper career as the city government reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, WI where he covered the City Hall, police, fire and local courthouse beats. In 2005 he joined the staff of the Missoula Independent in Missoula, MT where he worked as a staff reporter covering a wide range of issues including the environment,...

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