BY TODD STACY AND MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A draft plan circulated to state lawmakers shows proposed spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds on expanding broadband internet service, improving water and sewer infrastructure and helping state hospitals and nursing homes that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers will allocate $580 million in American Rescue Plan Act as well as a separate $192 million capital projects fund for a total of $772 million.
A spreadsheet obtained by Alabama Daily News shows a plan to put $80 million toward hospitals and nursing homes, $85 million on broadband infrastructure, $120 million on water and sewer improvements plus another $105 million in water and sewer matching grants, and $79 million to shore up the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
The full spreadsheet is below.
Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to call a special session on the ARPA funds as early as next week. The special session would mean lawmakers would only focus on the ARPA funds without the distractions of any other legislation or priorities.
The broadband funding will likely be used to fund grants that incentivize providers to build “last mile” infrastructure to get high-speed internet to remote areas of the state. Advocates have said without grants, reaching all potential customers doesn’t make financial sense because the investment they’d have to make is too great. The latest estimates have put the price tag of broadband statewide at $4 billion to $6 billion, but depending on the grant level, internet companies would have to provide some matching funds.
The contribution to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, from which unemployment benefits are paid, would lessen a tax increase on the employers statewide that pay into the fund. Last year, lawmakers used CARES Act funds for the same reason.
On Thursday at the State House, there was talk of using some of the ARPA money on state parks and historical sites around the state. That suggestion is not reflected in the spreadsheet.
Still, lawmakers continue negotiating a plan and nothing is final.