POLICY REMINDER: Lawmakers seek to use relief funds wisely | New


State lawmakers have about $ 1.9 billion in federal pandemic relief funds to allocate by the end of 2024, but even if they have time to assess their options, they say it It is important that the discussions begin now so that the money is put to good use.

A joint legislative committee tasked with dispersing American Rescue Plan Act funds first met on Wednesday, when members said it was imperative to work with cities, counties and agencies in the State to ensure funds are used to their full potential.

“This is a chance to maximize these one-time funds to make investments that will benefit generations of Oklahomians,” said Senate Speaker Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, joint committee co-chair.

In addition to the $ 1.87 billion the state is expected to receive, Oklahoma counties will share $ 728 million; An additional $ 315 million will go to the 10 largest cities; and cities with less than 50,000 inhabitants will share $ 238 million.

State Senator Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, pointed to a report from the Legislative Office of Tax Transparency earlier this year in which the Stitt administration was criticized for its handling of the CARES Act funds, and said that the joint committee will ensure that future projects come together. federal guidelines on how the money can be used.

“It’s a lot of money, and I think the main reason for this legislative committee working with the governor is to make sure that these dollars are spent appropriately and that there will be no clawbacks. ‘future,’ Pemberton said. “The LOFT committee had an audit of the governor’s spending of the original CARES Act dollars and felt he had mispended a good chunk of that money. So this was put in place to ensure that these new dollars are spent based on how they are spent. can be spent, so the federal government can’t come back in two or three years and say we spent $ 500 million poorly. “

The US Department of the Treasury has issued guidelines for states receiving their share of the $ 350 billion in ARPA funding. State governments should use it to support urgent COVID-19 response efforts to reduce the spread of the virus; replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments to strengthen support for public services and maintain jobs; support the immediate economic stabilization of households and businesses; and address systemic public health and economic challenges. The funds can also be used to make the necessary investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Pemberton has already put a bug in the ears of some committee members about a project he would like to see come to fruition.

“Visit with Dr. [Steve] Northeast turnover [State University], I know they would like to see around $ 6 or $ 7 million invested to help build the new school of optometry, ”he said. “I have made it known that I support this with Senator Thompson, who is one of the chairs of the committee.

The committee is made up of 24 legislators: 12 members of the Senate and 12 members of the House. Twenty Republicans make up the majority of the committee, with four Democrats also in office.

A group of six lawmakers and five executive officials will assess the committee’s recommendations before sending them to the governor.

State Representative Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah, said it was important for these members to take the time to listen to voters to ensure that the money is spent wisely. He understands that most agencies will reach out, but said he would like to see some of it to help rejuvenate the workforce.

“We have to somehow get people back to work,” he said. “You drive all the fast food outlets, all the car dealerships – all those that employ people – and there are signs up front that say we need help.”

Officials say an online form will be available in August for the public to comment. Money can’t go to the rainy day fund or lower taxes.

Yolette Ross, president of the Cherokee County Democratic Party, would like some of the funding to help pay for essential workers.

“That and helping the homeless, because that is also part of the economic impact of COVID,” she said. “And broadband in rural areas. Without knowing what the city is going to face, if we get a reserve of money, these are the issues that come to mind and need to be addressed.”

Cherokee County Republican Party Chairman Josh Owen and Cherokee County Libertarian Party Chairman Shannon Grimes did not respond to media inquiries until press time.

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