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State and Local Governments: Knowledge of Past Recessions Can Inform Future Federal Fiscal Assistance

GAO-11-401 Published: Mar 31, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 2011.
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The most recent recession, which started in December 2007, is generally believed to be the worst economic downturn the country has experienced since the Great Depression. In response to this recession, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), which provided state and local governments with about $282 billion in fiscal assistance. The Recovery Act requires GAO to evaluate how national economic downturns have affected states since 1974. In this report, GAO (1) analyzes how state and local government budgets are affected during national recessions and (2) identifies strategies to provide fiscal assistance to state and local governments and indicators policymakers could use to time and target such assistance. This report is being released in conjunction with a companion report on Medicaid and economic downturns to respond to a related statutory requirement in the Recovery Act. GAO analyzed economic data and states' general fund budget data; reviewed past federal fiscal assistance and related evaluations; and interviewed analysts at key associations and think tanks. GAO shared relevant findings with policy research organizations and associations representing state and local officials, who generally agreed with our conclusions. We incorporated technical comments from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. GAO identifies strategies for Congress to consider but does not make recommendations in this report.

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Budget outlaysEconomic growthEconomic policiesEconomic researchFederal aid to statesstate relationsIncome taxesLocal governmentsMunicipal governmentsNational policiesPublic assistance programsRecessionState governmentsUnemployment ratesBudget functionsEconomic assistancePolicy evaluationPublic health emergencies