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Ga. readies for $5.9B federal stimulus

ATLANTA — Georgia is expected to get $5.9 billion for transportation, health care and other programs from the massive economic stimulus package headed for President Barack Obama's desk.

The $787 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress Friday night includes a $1.7 billion infusion for Medicaid, $1.2 billion for education and another $1 billion to build and repair highways and bridges in Georgia, according to the Federal Funds Information for States.

Georgia legislators, facing a $2.2 billion deficit, hope the money will help them stave off deeper budget cuts and furloughs. The money for health care, for instance, could prevent a 1.6 percent hospital fee to offset a widening Medicaid deficit.

But state officials were quick to say the tidal wave of federal cash is no a magic fix.

"It's not a panacea," said Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, who reminded lawmakers Friday that Georgia's unemployment rate hovers around 8.1 percent.

Lawmakers have already decided to slow the 40-day legislative session in anticipation of the federal dollars. Both chambers agreed last week on a plan to disband in late March and return in June to consider any final budget changes.

A range of public officials — from transportation authorities to school administrators — hope the money will help them prevent deeper furloughs and a round of layoffs. But state officials said Friday they may need time to determine how the stimulus affects their projections.

"It's a moving target at best," said Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia. "We're as in the dark as anyone else would be. There's too many unknown variables."

Supporters say the stimulus would help create and retain jobs and jolt the country out of a deeper recession. But critics say it contains too much unnecessary spending.

Here's a look at how the funds could be doled out, according to the preliminary review released by the Federal Funds Information for States:

—$1.7 billion for Georgia's Medicaid program

—$1.2 billion in education dollars

—$1 billion to build and repair roads and bridges

—$333 million for special education programs

—$90 million for public housing

—$82 million for child care programs

—$33 million for homelessness prevention

—$20 million for the Head Start program

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