A federal stimulus program that provided 2,300 Georgians with jobs will expire today — unless Congress agrees to an extension.

But state officials acknowledged that the program failed to meet its goals. The state had hoped to provide jobs for 5,000 people, and it used only half of the $21 million that it could have spent.

The goals were ambitious, said Eli Phillips, state Department of Human Services stimulus programs director, and the program didn’t start as quickly as the state had hoped.

Participants complained the state was slow to start the program and did a poor job of making the jobs visible.

While the federal stimulus money was approved in early 2009, Georgia didn’t start providing jobs in earnest for the adult work program until a year later.

Atlanta didn’t learn of the program until May, said Deborah Lum, executive director of the Atlanta Workforce program, which managed the city plan. Consequently, the city provided jobs for only 50 people.

“It could have been a whole lot more,” Lum said.

Other state programs funded by stimulus money have faced similar problems.

The state started the Fresh Start program, which provided money to help struggling families pay home-related bills, 18 months after the money was approved in early 2009.

Dena Smith, state Department of Human Services spokeswoman, said federal guidance for that program was not provided until December.

The management of stimulus programs has come under criticism.

“They’re obviously not being run well,” said Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. “They are leaving businesses confused, concerned and reluctant to involve themselves.”

Others say despite the problems, the programs have helped people and the economy.

“We know what happens when families fall into poverty,” said Clare Richie, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute senior analyst, who supports an extension. “It can affect their children, their health; ultimately, it affects the state.”

The Adult Subsidized Employment Program, which put unemployed parents to work into government, private and nonprofit jobs, provided workers for 600 Georgia businesses by paying 80 percent of the employees’ salaries.

Congressional leaders — and many Georgians — are divided over spending more stimulus money.

Atlanta, GA Lawyer

Said Debbie Dooley, Atlanta Tea Party co-founder, “It is not government’s job to bribe businesses to give the unemployed jobs.”

Officials said the loss of the program will hurt people who were hit the hardest by the recession. Many of the recipients hadn’t requested government assistance before, Phillips said.

“We put people back to work,” Phillips said. “And we helped employers maintain their employees.”

To qualify for the subsidy, a person must be a U.S. citizen living in Georgia with at least one child.

That recipient could have an income 300 percent above the poverty level, which, for a family of four, could be as high as $66,000.

While the stimulus money reimbursed employers for 80 percent of the worker’s salary, the employer was required to pay the other 20 percent and whatever insurance was provided to the worker.

“I hate that the program is going to end,” said David Avery, owner of Be Right There Road Service of Atlanta, who hired a driver and two dispatchers.

Avery, who will keep one worker and let the others go, said the subsidies allowed him to expand his business during the recession without risk.

By Craig Schneider

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution