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Left on the table: Millions from federal relief bill went untouched by Idaho Legislature
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Left on the table: Millions from federal relief bill went untouched by Idaho Legislature

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Minico football successes

The American flag hangs in the rotunda Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the Capitol in Boise.

BOISE — If you felt like it was hard to keep track of the various bills appropriating millions of dollars under consideration at the Idaho Legislature this session, you aren’t alone.

Between power struggles over whether the Legislature would retain control of federal funds between legislative sessions and battles over funding for COVID-19 testing in school and child care provider grants, plus normal annual budget bills and other miscellaneous grants, it became difficult even for the experts to keep track of it all.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would have required a special session of the Legislature to approve any federal funds by suspending the section of Idaho Code that allows the governor to have spending authority while the Legislature is not in session. The provision would have lasted through the end of the 2022 legislative session. However, the Senate never voted on the bill.

Both chambers of the Legislature did pass a bill declaring that all current and future federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act would require legislative approval.

The Legislature approved a number of programs from that relief bill. But with the timing of the act’s passage in Congress, federal guidance is still to be determined on some funding and other bills accepting the money seemed to fall by the wayside during the session.

That’s not a huge issue for some of the funds that are available for the next several years, some as late as 2030. But others expire in 2022, meaning if the Legislature hasn’t acted on them by the end of the 2021 fiscal year, the money will be returned to the federal government and potentially redistributed.

“We did the best we could in working with (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee) with the estimates we had knowing that some could be subject to change when notices of award would trickle in during the months ahead,” said Alex Adams, Gov. Brad Little’s chief budget officer in the Division of Financial Management. “We acted on quite a few things, but certainly not everything.”

Adams said his office recommended no action on some programs as they await guidance, but other funding was never considered or given a vote, such as the Homeowner Assistance Fund, which would have helped qualifying individuals with mortgage assistance if they were affected by COVID-19. Another fund called the Small Business Credit Initiative also never received consideration.

“So right now we’ll look at what we do with those funds, whether the (U.S.) Treasury will let us keep them or not,” Adams said.

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee didn’t address the small business grants because of a lack of specificity from the federal government on how the funds can be spent, but he isn’t sure why others like homeowner assistance were not addressed.

“After (the House) killed the COVID testing dollars, I think there was just a general reticence among members of JFAC to push any more ARPA through the House,” Nash said, referring to the rejection of $40 million in funding for public and private schools to participate in optional COVID-19 testing and purchase associated materials.

Another segment of federal funding rejected by the Idaho House this session was a $6 million early childhood development grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which had support from the governor and both of Idaho’s Republican U.S. senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.

The grant is separate from American Rescue Plan funds, but because the Idaho State Board of Education would partner with the Idaho Association for Young Children — a group some conservative lawmakers consider to be pushing a liberal agenda — the House voted the funding down in March. A second rewritten version of the bill with intent language meant to address those concerns passed the Senate but did not receive a vote in the House before the recess. It’s unclear whether the grant has to have legislative approval to be spent.

The largest piece of American Rescue Plan funding is the State Fiscal Recovery Fund, which was originally estimated to be nearly $1.2 billion, but Adams said was recently revised down to nearly $1.1 billion by the federal government. Because Idaho’s economy has weathered the pandemic better than some other states, Adams said there was no need to rush to allocate more than $50 million of the funds.

“Our approach all along has been to defer those dollars to January and only use a very small portion to stabilize our COVID response,” Adams said.

Leading up to January, Adams said many discussions with legislators will take place about how best to use those funds.

What passed, what didn’t

Based on documents provided to the Idaho Capital Sun, the following is a list of American Rescue Plan Act funding that was available during the 2021 legislative session and what made the cut for Fiscal Year 2021. The funds each have different expiration dates, and if the availability date extends past 2022, the funding could be approved by the Legislature in future sessions.

Depending on the affected agency or if the funding is distributed statewide, the applicable agency makes a budget request to the Legislature for approval. Keith Bybee, budget and policy analyst at the Legislative Services Office, said some agencies decline to make a recommendation on funding for various reasons, or there may not be a request because federal guidance is incomplete.

State Fiscal Recovery Fund: $1.09 billion (Total available amount to Idaho)

Availability of funding ends: Dec. 31, 2024

Allowable use: Addressing the COVID-19 health emergency and its economic impacts, premium pay to workers, replacing lost revenue and investments in sewer, water and infrastructure.

Affected agency: Statewide agencies

Agency-requested amount: $50 million

Legislative action: With House Bill 370, the Legislature allocated $50 million of the fund to the Idaho Division of Financial Management to address vaccine distribution and management, personal protective equipment, communications, public safety, and related technology needs.

Local Fiscal Recovery Fund: $107.9 million

Availability of funding ends: Dec. 31, 2024

Allowable use: Addressing the COVID-19 health emergency and its economic impacts, premium pay to workers, replacing lost revenue and investments in sewer, water and infrastructure.

Affected agency: Office of the State Controller

Agency-requested amount: $53.9 million total

Legislative action: With Senate Bill 1208, the Legislature allocated $51.7 million of the fund to be distributed to local government agencies in Idaho with populations under 50,000, as prescribed in the American Rescue Plan Act. Alex Adams, chief budget officer for the Division of Financial Management, said his office learned last week that initial estimates were lower than the fund’s actual total. As a result, an additional $2.1 million was approved by the Legislature on May 12.

Emergency Rental Assistance: $152 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2027

Allowable use: Rent, utility and home energy costs, internet service and other defined expenses.

Affected agency: Office of the Governor

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Homeowner Assistance Fund: $71.9 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2025

Allowable use: Mortgage and utility payments.

Affected agency: Division of Financial Management

Agency-requested amount: $71.9 million

Legislative action: None

Centers for Disease Control – Reopening Schools: $53.8 million

Availability of funding ends: July 31, 2022

Allowable use: To provide resources for optional screening and testing programs in K-12 public and private schools. A minimum of 85% must be allocated to directly fund school districts or provide test kits, personal protective equipment, staffing and other related materials. Up to 15% could be used for coordination, technical assistance, data collection and other related activities to support testing programs.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: $40.3 million

Legislative action: Senate Bill 1210 failed in the House by a 41-28 vote after objections from conservative Republicans who said it was “just more government” and data collection on children.

School Districts and Public Charter Schools: $478.5 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2023

Allowable use: Mainly related to operations of schools and ensuring they remain open and safe. Also includes support for learning loss, summer enrichment and after school programs and assistance for homeless children.

Affected agency: Department of Education

Agency-requested amount: $454.03 million

Legislative action: With House Bill 388, the Legislature allocated $454.03 million of the funding, including $13.2 million for special education grants and $1.1 million for special education services for children between the ages of 4 and 5.

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund: $128.1 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2023

Allowable use: Operations related to COVID-19 relief at colleges and universities and community colleges.

Affected agency: Idaho colleges, community colleges and universities

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Child Care Block Grant and Stabilization Grants: $225 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2023 for stabilization grants; Oct. 1, 2024 for block grants

Allowable use: Block grants are authorized for child care assistance for health care workers, emergency responders, sanitation and other essential workers.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: $70 million for stabilization grants and $36 million for block grants.

Legislative action: Through House Bills 395 and 400, the Legislature approved the funding for stabilization grants for child care providers and funds for block grants to be used for children between the ages of 5 and 13 for in-person programs.

State Small Business Credit Initiative: $56.2 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2030

Allowable use: To provide support to small businesses responding to and recovering from COVID-19.

Affected agency: Division of Financial Management

Agency-requested amount: $18.7 million

Legislative action: None

COVID-19 Vaccine Preparedness Adjustment: $10.1 million

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: Vaccine distribution, promotion and tracking.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: $10.1 million

Legislative action: Through Senate Bill 1212, the Legislature approved the full amount, but added language stipulating that for any amount spent on promotional efforts for the vaccine, an equal amount could be expended on the promotion of health education, including Vitamin D supplementation and a reduction in “non-nutritional foods” such as high-fructose corn syrup.

Women, Infants and Children Program: $2.4 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2021

Allowable use: This is an opt-in program for states with WIC programs to provide participants with additional funds to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. The benefit is $35 per month for all WIC participants over the age of 1, versus the normal benefit of $9 to $11 per month. Zachary Clark, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said the program will last from June to September and is meant to be a benefit for Idaho farmers and the state’s economy as well.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

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Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: Jill Randolph, budget and policy analyst at the Legislative Services Office, said the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare determined sufficient funding already existed to provide this increase and did not need the additional federal dollars.

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment: $2.1 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2023

Allowable use: Supporting community-based efforts to develop and operate initiatives and programs to prevent child abuse and provide resources for families and cooperating agencies.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Community Mental Health Services Block Grant: $8.5 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2025

Allowable use: Providing comprehensive community mental health services for children and adults.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention Block Grant: $7.1 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2025

Allowable use: Prevention and treatment of substance abuse through education, alternatives, problem identification and referrals.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program: $26.6 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2022

Allowable use: Assisting low-income families with managing the costs of home energy bills. Available in Idaho as one time per year utility payments made directly to the utility company for eligible individuals.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: $14 million

Legislative action: The Legislature approved funding for this program in Senate Bill 1212.

Congregate and Home-Delivered Meals: $3.8 million

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: Providing healthy meals for seniors in community settings such as senior centers, churches or senior housing communities, as well as home-delivered meals. Nutrition screenings and assessments, education and counseling are also permitted.

Affected agency: Commission on Aging

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: In House Bill 399, the Legislature approved $2.9 million for the Idaho Commission on Aging.

Supportive/Preventative Services and Caregiver Funding: $3.3 million

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: Services that enable older Americans to stay in their homes as long as possible, preventative services that provide evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion, family caregiver support services, and funding for a “Long-Term Care Ombudsman” that would help resolve problems related to the health and welfare of individuals in long-term care facilities.

Affected agency: Commission on Aging

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Child Care Entitlement to States: $3.1 million

Availability of funding ends: N/A — this is a permanent increase

Allowable use: An increase to the annual standard child care entitlement funding from the federal government. It is a permanent increase to the funding – the first increase since 2006.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: $3.1 million

Legislative action: In Senate Bill 1212, the full amount was approved for the Division of Welfare.

Mobility and Public Transportation Programs: $928,000

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2024

Allowable use: One program provides enhanced mobility for seniors and individuals with disabilities, and another supports certain forms of public transportation. The mobility funds are for meal delivery or transportation as needed, and the public transportation funding is for agencies to use to prevent, prepare and respond to COVID-19, including payroll, administrative leave and operating expenses.

Affected agency: Idaho Transportation Department

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

National Endowment for the Arts: $766,000

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: Grants for arts organizations to support operations during and immediately after the pandemic.

Affected agency: Commission on the Arts

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Institute of Museum and Library Services: $2.4 million

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: Necessary expenses for museum and library services.

Affected agency: Commission for Libraries

Agency-requested amount: $2.3 million

Legislative action: House Bill 373 approved the funding to provide grants to Idaho libraries to support “Libraries Keep Students Learning and Adults Earning” and to support the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ digital equity, early literacy services and other outreach programs.

Funding for State Veterans’ Homes: $4.2 million

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: For construction to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19.

Affected agency: Division of Veteran Services

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: None

Low-Income Household Drinking Water and Wastewater Energy Assistance Program: $6.5 million

Availability of funding ends: Until expended

Allowable use: Provided to owners and operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce costs for low-income households.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: $3 million

Legislative action: Funding was approved in Senate Bill 1212.

Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services: $78 million

Availability of funding ends: March 31, 2022

Allowable use: Supplemental funding for Medicaid services to enhance, expand or strengthen home and community-based services.

Affected agency: Department of Health and Welfare

Agency-requested amount: None

Legislative action: The full amount was approved in House Bill 382.

Emergency Management Performance Grant: $1.08 million

Availability of funding ends: Sept. 30, 2023

Allowable use: For the prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery from disasters to meet national preparedness goals.

Affected agency: Military Division

Agency-requested amount: $1.07 million

Legislative action: None

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