Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Georgia to Wait Until 2022 to Spend $4.8B COVID Relief

The state had hoped to announce COVID-related grants for broadband expansion, water and sewer projects and resident and business support by mid-October, but the timeline has been pushed back to early 2022.

(TNS) — It will be 2022 before Georgia starts spending the $4.8 billion in COVID-19 relief money that Congress approved in March to help mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Gov. Brian Kemp had hoped to announce grants for broadband expansion, water and sewer projects, and programs to aid Georgians and businesses by mid-October.

But state lawmakers on committees that are deciding which projects to recommend said cities, counties, businesses and nonprofits didn't have enough time to put together proposals, so Kemp's budget office is extending the time for applications until the end of October, which in turn moved the timeline for announcing where the money will go to early 2022.

While he was eager to start getting the money out to people, governments and businesses that need it, Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R- Vidalia, said the delay may help ease some of the current problems with finding workers and materials to do projects, such as adding or improving water and sewer lines.

Georgia's unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July, almost what it was the month the pandemic began, and businesses have reported having trouble finding workers.

"At the time this (relief bill) was passed, I understand we were really concerned about people being able to find jobs," Tillery said. "That is not our problem now. The supply chain is the problem."

The state originally asked those with proposals for the relief funding to submit applications between Aug. 1 and Tuesday, with committees of legislators such as Tillery and state officials scoring the projects and Kemp making the final decision.

But committee members such as Sen. Larry Walker, R- Kathleen, said that wasn't enough time to get engineering work or other planning done before applying for some infrastructure projects.

Rep. Robert Dickey, R- Musella, said: "I heard that from the get-go. I would like for us to extend it to a more reasonable time."

Kelly Farr, the governor's budget director, said his office had not received any completed applications by the Aug. 31 deadline.

"We heard from committee members, we heard from applicants," Farr said. "We know there is a lot of people that need the money, and we want to get it out as fast as we can.

"We are hopefully balancing the needs for the money with giving people enough time to plan and respond."

The $1.9 trillion relief package that President Joe Biden signed in March is sending billions to Georgia cities and school districts as well.

It was designed to help states hard hit by COVID-19, particularly during the business shutdown in the spring of 2020. It was also aimed at making up for lost tax revenue.

However, while a major economic downturn was expected from COVID-19, economies in many states, including Georgia, bounced back relatively quickly. The state in July announced a record $3.2 billon increase in tax collections in fiscal 2021, which ended June 30.

While some state governments have approved broad plans to use the relief money, little of it has been spent so far. That's because it took a few months for the money to flow into state coffers, and officials had to wait for guidance from the federal government detailing how they could spend it.

In Georgia, Kemp formed three committees to review applications, although he will ultimately make the final decision.

Georgia has received half the money it is expected to get. It is scheduled to receive the second half next year.

The first round of applications would allocate about $875 million of the $2.4 billion the state has received so far, according to the Office of Planning and Budget.

Most of the committee members come from outside metro Atlanta, which is also where most of the money in some areas — such as for expanding high-speed internet — will be spent. Of the 20 lawmakers Kemp appointed to committees, only two are from the five core metro Atlanta counties, and not one is from Atlanta itself.

Some states plan to use the money to fill holes left by declining tax collections, but that's not an issue in Georgia.

Others are talking up proposals to repair aging water, sewer and transportation systems, to improve mental health programs and to create the infrastructure needed to offer high-speed internet to the millions of Americans who don't have it.

The need for expanding high-speed internet access — particularly in rural Georgia — has been a hot topic at the General Assembly for years, but lawmakers could never come up with a way to pay for it without raising taxes and fees.

That talk only accelerated when schools closed down at the start of the pandemic and distance learning took the place of in-person instruction.

The money coming to Georgia can be used broadly for COVID-19 response, including making direct payments to Georgians, providing aid to small businesses, giving extra pay to "essential workers," funding job training and placement services, assisting hard-hit areas of the economy such as the hospitality and travel industries, and paying for infrastructure projects.

Some Republicans have expressed concern that the relief money, along with the trillions Congress is considering approving for infrastructure and expanding the social safety net, will cause inflation to increase at the same time companies have had a hard time finding workers and material to deliver on the projects the federal government is funding.

Tillery said that could also drive up the cost of roadwork and other projects funded by state government.

"At a point you are no longer getting more projects, you are just paying more for the the projects you get done," he said. "Rolling out that much money, you are going to be paying more for what you get."


(c)2021 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.