Walker County and its municipalities are anticipating a windfall from the new $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the new COVID-19 relief bill passed by the Congress and signed by President Biden.
Under the bill, the local governments are set to get $16.7 million, with the county getting $12.3 million of that. Jasper will get $2.49 million, the larger cities will get help with six-figure payouts, and the rest will get anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000.
Republicans in Congress screamed that there are hardly any strings attached to the money, charging that local communities could spend the money willy-nilly. Many of these cities don't have willys or nillys - they have a lot of other problems, particularly with roads needs. They could use the funds.
Well, you didn't think it was that easy, did you?
They get half the money first, and then the other half a year later. The funds can be used to for "the public health emergency with respect to the COVID-19 emergency or its negative economic impacts," including, for example, assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality - although not limited to those specific activities.
It can be used to provide government services due to reduction in revenue due to COVID-19, or make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. "State and local governments can transfer the funds to a private nonprofit organization, a public benefit corporation involved in the transportation of passengers or cargo or a special-purpose unit of State or local government," a summary said.
Premium pay - up to $13 an hour, with a cap of $25,000 for any single worker - may be paid for doing essential work during the pandemic. However, no funds may be deposited into any pension fund, and it can't offset revenue losses from and legislative or regulation change during the pandemic that reduced any tax. The states and local governments have to report how the funds are spent. (Read that as "paperwork.")
Well, needless to say, the local governments are waiting for clarification of that. A lot more clarification. Heck, they haven’t even received official notification yet of what they got.
We had heard in debate where local governments were hurting from the pandemic. Actually, the local governments in this area didn't do too bad as the economies have fared better than expected, although there was some hurt. Some reimbursement was useful. The communities could be different in the need for water, sewer or broadband needs. Some of those needs may not be so necessary in some areas, and broadband work has already started in some areas.
The question remains whether this will be like the last COVID-19 stimulus, where it was difficult to find ways to spend the money and there were fears the funs would not be used up.
Our idea for the moment is to take a breath, as the best news is the local officials have until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend the money. Local governments should not just wait for their associations to give details, but they should also turn to their professional grant writers or a committee to study how the funds can be used under the guidelines. The infrastructure should certainly be gone over to see if water, sewer or broadband upgrades can be addressed, especially as water and sewer lines can age.
And if someone says "roads," stand out of the way of being trampled to death by officials running - well, willy-nilly - to the drawing board. Although you may still not have enough to do more than patch some roads.
For now, it is not clear how this can be used. We are glad the county and cities got a chance, but it is far too soon if this is genuine manna from the skies or an empty political ploy that doesn't make up for anything. But for professional geeks who study government babble and report for a living, the next few months are going to be Heaven.
--Daily Mountain Eagle