Senate Passes Bill from Cornyn, Padilla, Bipartisan Colleagues to Allow Unspent COVID Relief Dollars for Infrastructure, Disaster Relief


In: All News   Posted 10/20/2021
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WASHINGTON – Last night, the Senate passed the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure, and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act, legislation led by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) to make several categories of infrastructure investments and disaster relief eligible for unspent COVID-19 relief dollars. It also extends the deadline to utilize relief funding if budgeted for eligible infrastructure projects. The legislation was supported by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). The legislation was also previously offered as an amendment to the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“In 2020, states and cities across the country delayed or canceled transportation improvement projects totaling about $12 billion,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation puts decision-making power at the local level and gives these leaders more flexibility to invest in the most critical projects for their communities, whatever those might be. This will give communities in Texas and all other states the ability to use pandemic relief funding when and where it's needed most. I want to thank Senators on both sides of the aisle who have worked with Senator Padilla and myself on this.”

“Each region of the country has unique local challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill will provide state, local, tribal, and territorial governments the flexibility they need to better use federal resources to care for and serve their residents. This will ultimately help strengthen our response to the continued fight against COVID,” said Sen. Padilla.

“Louisianians have gone through historic hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters over the last 18 months, and they still need help rebuilding their homes and businesses. I’m thankful to have worked with Sen. Cornyn to give Louisiana the power to redirect unspent coronavirus money for disaster victims. I hope the House follows suit quickly by sending this bill to the president’s desk,” said Sen. Kennedy.

Sen. Rick Scott said, “With an unsustainable $30 trillion federal debt crisis maxing out America’s credit card, it is critical that every single tax dollar is spent in the best interests of American families. I’ve been saying for months that if states and local communities don’t need the billions of dollars in federal funding they received for COVID relief, these tax dollars should absolutely be used to pay down the U.S. debt, settle our past-due bills and put this country back on a path to economic freedom. I’m glad this common sense provision was unanimously approved in the U.S. Senate and look forward to this important legislation quickly passing in the House of Representatives.”

“Arizona mayors know what is best for their communities which is why I co-sponsored this legislation to give our cities and towns the flexibility to use relief funds for much-needed infrastructure investments. This bill will help put our local economies on a stronger path to recovery,” said Sen. Kelly.

“ANCs and the thousands of Alaska Natives they serve have been left in limbo since the spring of 2020, hopeful but uncertain that they would have fair access to CARES Act tribal resources,” said Sen. Sullivan. “With the Supreme Court’s just decision upholding their access to these federal resources, ANCs are facing a time crunch to get COVID-19 relief dollars out the door. This unnecessary rush is not in the interest of good governance or the people we serve. I thank Senators Cornyn and Padilla for leading this legislative effort, which isn’t about spending new federal dollars, but rather granting reasonable flexibility to deploy CARES Act relief in the best interests of our constituents, whose lives, businesses and communities have been upended by the pandemic.”  

“This CARES Act extension is critically important for Tribal governments who received their CARES Act allocations late due to litigation over eligibility, more than a year after disbursements to other Tribal governments began. This bill allows more flexibility to state and local governments to determine how to best utilize COVID relief federal funding,” said Senator Murkowski. “Alaska has been leading the nation in positive cases per capita, and sadly our state also recently logged the nation’s highest rates for COVID-19 fatalities on a per capita basis. Our entire state, including Alaska Native communities, continue to experience hardships from the pandemic due to COVID-19 variants and still need to make use of these relief funds. I urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation to provide certainty to Tribal governments affected by late disbursements as well as empower local leaders to make decisions on what’s best for their communities.”

Background:

Given that the American Rescue Plan Act made water, wastewater, and broadband infrastructure eligible for COVID funds, the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure, and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act would provide additional flexibility for States, Tribes, and units of local government to spend their allocations of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. It gives state and local officials additional flexibility to responsibly spend their own funds. There is a cap—the greater of $10 million or 30% of the funds—on how much of the COVID money can be spent on these new purposes (though the previous ARP set asides for water, wastewater, and broadband remain unrestricted). The bill also allows these funds to be used to provide emergency relief from natural disasters and creates a process for local officials to decline funds if their jurisdictions did not suffer budget shortfalls during COVID, an option not currently available to them under the American Rescue Plan. Text of the bill is available here.

  • It does not place spending mandates on recipients of COVID funding and does not reclaim any distributed funding.

Endorsees: The National Governors Association, National Congress of American Indians, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, American Road & Transportation Builders Association, National League of Cities, Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Public Transportation Association, Associated General Contractors of America, National Association of Development Organizations, Associated Equipment Distributors, American Subcontractors Association, American Highway Users Alliance, Government Finance Officers Association, Design-Build Institute of America, National Association of Surety Bond Producers, National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, American Traffic Safety Services Association, American Public Works Association, American Concrete Pipe Association, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, National Association of County Engineers, American Concrete Pavement Association, American Foundry Society, and National Association of Regional Councils.