Heads of State: Targeted Plan Needed for ARPA Money Allocations

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The money is coming. But how it will be spent remains an open question.

Alabama leaders have a rare chance to use federal money to make meaningful improvements to the state’s broadband networks and other infrastructure systems, but leaders must carefully plan their spending to to stay competitive with states that have the same opportunities, Alabama Chief Financial Officer Bill Poole told a panel of lawmakers Thursday.

“Every state in this country is going to spend an enormous amount of federal money on broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, health care…” Poole said during an update on Alabama. Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, two federal laws. laws that will inject billions into the state.

Poole said the state’s objective “should recognize that we are in competition with other states and that we must take this opportunity of a lifetime to advance further than these other states in their investments in order that, once the dust has settled, we have improved our competitive position to the benefit of all our citizens, rather than falling further behind.”

Poole and Kirk Fulford of the Legislative Services Agency outlined to lawmakers the multiple federal funds that can support infrastructure projects, but noted that they had different spending rules, would become available at different times, and “have different terms. “Poole said.

He said the state needed a plan “and then put those funds into that plan.”

That money includes about $580 million in ARPA funds received this year and another $1 billion expected in May or June. Potential permitted uses include infrastructure, public health, aid to those affected by the pandemic, bonuses for private and public sector employees, and replacement of revenue the state has lost due to the pandemic.

The state has until the end of 2024 to allocate the money and the end of 2026 to spend it.

Poole cautioned against allocating ARPA money not yet received in the next legislative session because the rules on how it can be spent could change. This session begins on January 11.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, chairman of the Senate General Fund, told Alabama Daily News lawmakers will likely focus on the $580 million in ARPA funds already received and wait to allocate the rest later. Although some lawmakers may file bills trying to get ARPA money for pet projects, they likely won’t get far, Albritton said.

“We’re trying to find a path where we can use this money for the future and the betterment of Alabama,” Albritton said. This exact path and process is not yet known.

“We are evaluating all potential needs and will continue to work with the Legislative Assembly, which ultimately allocates APRA money,” Gina Maiola, spokeswoman for Governor Kay Ivey, said Thursday.

Regardless of how the money is spent, the required record keeping will be complex and extensive, required quarterly until all the money is used up.

Poole warned lawmakers they will need a reporting system that allows for easy audits. He said a preliminary “placeholder” report to the federal government took his staff about three days earlier this year.

Additionally, within ARPA, $192 million “to complete critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency regarding the coronavirus disease…”

And the Infrastructure Act guarantees at least $100 million, but likely much more, in broadband assistance for the state. He also earmarked $782 million for water projects in Alabama.

Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman, has advocated for broadband funding for years and reminded colleagues Thursday that it will take billions of dollars to get high-speed internet to underserved and unserved areas. of State.

“As we move forward, keep in mind that people need help with slow or no internet,” Shedd told colleagues.

More information on the state’s broadband needs may become available when the new Alabama Digital Expansion Authority meets next week. The authority was created by lawmakers earlier this year to oversee the expansion of high-speed broadband internet services, but no funding stream has been allocated to it.

James V. Hayes