“What makes this recovery plan so important is not just that it will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years,” said Pres. Barack Obama, on Feb 17, 2009, after signing the $787 billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the stimulus, into law.
“It’s that we’re putting Americans to work, doing the work America needs done,” the president said.
But two years later, people like David Ligthner aren’t seeing any signs of that big stimulus.
“We’re struggling,” said Lightner, the owner of Jack Queen Construction. “There’s no help out there for us.”
Jack Queen Construction is one of Immokalee’s oldest construction companies. But since the Recovery Act passed, they have had to lay off 40 people.
“Have you received any help from the government?,” asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
“Nothing,” said Lightner. “They have not helped me in one way, shape or form…they’re giving money to everybody except the people that need it.”
So who is getting that money?
Our search for that answer takes us down a dirt road seemingly into the middle of nowhere. Rolling past the Hendry County Prison, we are looking for a company called Primate Products, which was awarded nearly $538,000 of your money.
The company imports animals from all over the world for scientific testing.
They have become a frequent target of animal activists who point to leaked photos showing mutilated monkeys in what appears to be a surgical setting.
“We’ve got rampant unemployment,” said Don Anthony, with the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, an activist group. “And they’re putting this money to such bad use.”
Lat fall, the federal government used $537,560 in stimulus money to buy 108 monkeys from Primate Products.
The monkeys will be used for flu virus experiments, which federal health officials say can save human lives.
“I think people are going to be disgusted when they find out their hard earned tax money is not going where it was supposed to go,” said Don Anthony, “to help unemployed Americans.”
The stimulus had three main goals: to create or save jobs, to spur economic growth and to be transparent.
So did this money create any jobs?
The president of Primate Products, Don Bradford, declined our request for an on-camera interview. But in a series of e-mails, says there are no “stipulations” the money be “directly spent on wages.”
According to Recovery.gov, the government’s own stimulus tracking Web site, it shows Primate Products didn’t create a single job with the money here in Florida.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD), which bought the monkeys, calls this “important research” and says “investing in public health” has “created tens of thousands of jobs nationwide.”
But when pressed about the number of jobs actually created as a result of the Primate Products purchase, be it research or otherwise, a spokesperson told us: “This particular contract is not associated with job creation.”
“I think it’s great that you’re doing the story and that you’ve uncovered this,” said southwest Florida Rep. Connie Mack.
Our findings shocked Mack, who conducted his own investigation and discovered Primate Products actually received $1.3 million.
So what’s wrong with the government doing animal experiments if it could save so many lives?
“Again this came out of the stimulus, package. We were told the stimulus package was going to create jobs, ” said Mack who talked to us via satellite from Washington. “This is what people are so frustrated about – that the government is spending money on things that the people don’t need, don’t want and don’t deserve.”
Dave Lightner believes southwest Floridans like him deserve better.
Talking to us in his now empty construction yard, Lightner still wears his American flag hat with pride.Even as he watches his American dream, and any hope of a stimulus life raft, slip away.
“And you need this money?,” asked Grant.
“Oh man, geez tell me about it,” said Lightner. “I could put six, seven people to work Monday morning.”
Mack says the government shouldn’t be monkeying around with the money.
In a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius calling for a “thorough review” of the Primate Products contracts along with a “detailed report” as to how this money fits in with the goals of the stimulus.
“Aside from reporting their awards to the Recovery.gov website,” Mack wrote, “we have yet to find evidence that these four contracts accomplish any of these goals.”