Lawmakers face decisions over $ 1.5 billion in relief funds

Alabama lawmakers will face decisions in the coming months on how to spend more than $ 1.5 billion in pandemic relief funds, and legislative leaders say infrastructure projects – such as broadband and sewer projects – should be a spending priority.

Congress allocated $ 2.12 billion to Alabama as part of the US bailout. The state received the first half in June and has $ 580 million left after earmarking $ 80 million for hospitals and nursing homes and $ 400 million on a controversial prison construction plan. The state will receive a second $ 1.060 billion in May or June of this coming year. The state also has $ 191 million allocated through the US Rescue Plan Investment Project Fund.

Pro Tempore Senate Speaker Greg Reed R-Jasper has said the use of the money will be one of the main issues lawmakers face in the session that begins Jan. 11. He said the proposals are still being worked out, but he expects the money to be directed. towards a combination of local and regional projects as well as reimbursements to hospitals and other health care providers who were hit hard during the pandemic.

“You’re going to be looking at projects that will be aimed at individual communities,” Reed said, adding that this would likely be done by establishing a grant or application process.

He said they are also considering budget spending for “large projects that will be regional projects” as well as tasking the finance ministry with handling additional reimbursements to health care providers. “There would potentially be additional dollars in health care that would have to go beyond the resources that we have already provided and that would be reimbursed by hospitals, nursing homes, etc.”

Senate General Finance and Taxation Fund Chairs Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said legislative leaders plan to meet with Governor Kay Ivey next week. He said each lawmaker has their own idea of ​​how the remaining $ 580 million should be spent.

“I want this money to be invested in the future, without paying for the past. I want this money to be invested in businesses that will make a difference for the next generation, ”said Albritton.

House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse R-Ozark has said he expects lawmakers to allocate the $ 580 million this session and leave decisions on the billion dollars – that the State will not receive until the session is over – see you later.

He anticipates that a large amount of money will be invested in rural broadband, water and sewerage projects. Clouse said the pandemic has highlighted the lack of internet access, with many children without internet access as they try to learn from home.

“I don’t think we need to get into operating expenses and things that are going to require recurring revenue streams. It should be one-time capital type projects, ”Clouse said.

Alabama has been criticized for using $ 400 million in pandemic relief funds to build prisons. Legislative Republicans said it was a permitted use, but critics argued that it was not an appropriate use of the money.

“Maybe our priorities will finally catch up with our $ 400 million we spent on prisons,” said Representative Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

England has said hospitals and nursing homes will seek additional resources, which he said is “particularly relevant now that it looks like we are in the middle of another wave”. Hospitals have seen labor costs rise as they turn to contract travel staff to fill staff shortages as well as the expense of setting up clinics for monoclonal antibodies.

“We missed a number of opportunities to spend a lot of this money on education. As we brought the CRT (Critical Race Theory) out of the classroom, we ignored COVID sitting right there. We probably need to focus a little more resources on making sure our kids are safe from a real problem, as opposed to an imaginary problem, ”England said.

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