PROVIDENCE – The clock is ticking on passage of a fiscal 2022 state budget, but House Committee on Finance members were told on Thursday the state still doesn’t have clear answers on how federal pandemic aid can be used to help pay for it.
House Fiscal Advisor Sharon Reynolds Ferland told the panel that guidance for using an expected $1.1 billion in federal stimulus funding from the American Rescue Plan is still not complete. While the state has until 2024 to obligate the money and even longer to use it, it is unclear whether lawmakers will get all the do’s and don’ts on how it can be spent before the June 30th end of the fiscal year.
Ferland and Jonathan Womer, director of the state Office of Management and Budget, said the state has been told that any use of that money must be tied to resolving an issue that was caused by the pandemic.
Dorothy Pascale, director of the Pandemic recovery Office at the Department of Administration, said that fiscal reports will be required for specific usage of the stimulus funds. The reports would include performance metrics, such as progress updates, completion dates, etc.
Womer, director of the OMB, said there is a lot of complexity to using the funding and balancing the budget. He said the partnership between the federal government and the state regarding the stimulus aid will be tested in the coming months.
Gov. Daniel J. McKee has proposed an $11.17 billion fiscal 2022 spending plan. On Tuesday he acknowledged that the rules and guidelines for usage of the federal stimulus aid might not be provided to the state until the fall. He suggested he might try to wait until then for lawmakers to consider some parts of his spending plan in a special legislative session but offered no details.
Ferland did tell the panel that $18 million of the $30 million available via the governor’s Small Business Relief Grant Program has been spent. She said the remaining balance could be used for other budget needs. She noted that applications have closed for the program.
After the budget review, Rep. Carlos Tobon, D-Pawtucket, asked Ferland if any of the stimulus funds could be utilized as seed capital for projects, and communities, creating a revolving fund so it doesn’t dissipate on one-time projects.
“The thing the guidance covers is the uses,” said Ferland. “The activities have to relate to resolving an issue caused by the pandemic.”
Rep. Jacquelyn M. Baginski, D-Cranston, posed a broad question about the rollout of the guidance. “Do you have any indication about when it will be complete, or when we will have it all?”
“It typically takes 30 to 90 days to issue guidance,” said Ferland. “It is the federal government. They don’t necessarily act that speedily.” The federal stimulus aid the state will be receiving via the American Rescue Plan was passed by Congress on March 11.
Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.
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