Idaho’s spent just 1% of federal ARPA relief funds

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

During the second day of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s interim meeting Wednesday, legislators listened to a breakdown of how much federal money the state has spent, and what’s still in the bank. 

Alex Adams, of the Division of Financial Management, provided an update on the use of the American Rescue Plan Act funding through HB370, which passed in the last legislative session. That bill gave $50 million of ARPA funds to the Division of Financial Management to spend on unspecific COVID-19 related issues. 

The money came from ARPA’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.

Of that $50 million, the state spent $2 million on water planning grants. Another $11.8 million was used for COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment centers and hospital capacity enhancement. Adams said half of that went to skilled nursing facilities taking patients to free up beds and resources at hospitals. 

Some Idaho hospitals remain under crisis standards of care due to the excessive amount of coronavirus patients and lack of resources.

The state also spent $501,000 for IT subscriptions to help facilitate remote work.

DFM is looking at budget placeholders for other ways they could potentially use the ARPA funding within state departments.

The National Association of State Budget Officers reported that nationally, 41% of state ARPA recovery funds have been allocated, said Adams. Idaho has appropriated just 4% of its ARPA state recovery funds, and spent 1% of the total funds.

Cities that have populations of fewer than 50,000 people can request local ARPA funds, too, but Adams explained the state does not have oversight over how the local municipalities use the funding. Seven cities declined ARPA funding, and nine cities were unresponsive to the state’s notifications about ARPA funding. Cities with more than 50,000 people get their ARPA funding directly from the federal government, not through the state.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, told Adams in committee that she had concerns around Idaho spending just 1% of its ARPA funding.

She offered the example of teachers in some school districts who have COVID-19 being forced to use their own sick leave if they contract the virus or need to quarantine.

“I’m very concerned about the things that are not being covered,” she said.

The issue around federal money not being spent in Idaho is part of a common thread JFAC has heard this week. On Tuesday, lawmakers discussed funding around the Emergency Rental Assistance packages the state received. The federal government gave Idaho $176 million for rental assistance through the program, but the state has spent only $14 million, which is less than 30% of the allocation.

The Idaho Housing and Finance Association said they anticipated that some of the unspent money will be recaptured by the federal government and provided to other states.

Other COVID-19-related expenses that Adams reported to the committee included the $30 million that Gov. Brad Little made available for schools that need testing for the virus. Additionally, the state provided some funding for schools to pay substitute teachers, bus drivers, and other non-administrative staff during the pandemic, as well as funding for the Department of Correction for pay increases and retention bonuses for correctional officers at the prisons.

Adams also provided an update on spending around Little’s latest initiative, called Building Idaho’s Future, and the use of funding for COVID-19.

The Building Idaho’s Future, or BIF, included tax-relief, a transportation package, and water, agriculture and broadband infrastructure, among other targets.

BIF resulted in $220 million in one-time tax relief and $160 million in ongoing tax relief. Adams noted that 645,473 people got a tax rebate and the average rebate was $248. 

An additional $20 million was set aside for schools to use for learning loss due to the pandemic in predominantly K-4th grades, but also K-12th grades.

Other funding through the initiative helped pay for deferred maintenance at state agency buildings. 

The finance committee will meet again on Thursday morning to review budgeting issues.

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