Oklahoma legislators working on allocation of $1.8 billion in federal ARPA funds
Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding working groups evaluating requests for federal funding are picking up the pace as they head toward a special session.
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Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief working groups have advanced various proposals in the last few days. What have legislators been focusing on?
Shawn Ashley: Really a little bit of everything. One, considered programs designed to benefit at risk youth and their families. Another discussed funding for broadband projects and other infrastructure needs. And another looked at economic development issues with a lot of focus on expanding the state's workforce.
Dick Pryor: These working groups are reviewing requests and making recommendations on how they believe the state should allocate its federal ARPA money. That's $1.8 billion. How does this process work?
Shawn Ashley: Listeners may remember that it was nearly one year ago that the Joint Committee opened a portal to receive project proposals and ideas for how to use the state share of the ARPA funds. They closed that portal at the end of March and the proposals they received were divided up among a series of working groups that began reviewing them earlier this year. In some cases, the working groups worked with the state agency or the nonprofit entity requesting the funds to modify their proposal. Sometimes that meant reducing the amount of funding requested or how it would be used. Projects that get a positive recommendation from a working group go to the full Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding for further review, and if approved, they go to the Legislature for consideration.
Dick Pryor: This ARPA process really appears similar to the way legislators typically determine legislative appropriations.
Shawn Ashley: It really is. If you think about the working groups like Appropriations Subcommittees that hear budget proposals from state agencies and then make recommendations to the full appropriations committees that then go to the House and Senate for consideration, it does mirror that process.
Dick Pryor: How do these recommendations ultimately get approved and implemented, and is there oversight?
Shawn Ashley: The recommendations of the full joint committee become bills that have to be approved by the House and the Senate. Those bills go to Governor Kevin Stitt, and he can either sign, veto or allow the bills to become law absent his signature. Thus far, the governor has allowed all but one of the bills to become law without his signature. In the case of that one bill, he line-item vetoed a portion of it. But lawmakers corrected that when they came back in June so that that program, a water resources board program, could move forward. In addition to legislative oversight, there are significant federal regulations tied to this money. And for funds ultimately going to nonprofit entities, specific state agencies will be assigned to make sure that the money is spent appropriately.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, what's next in the ARPA funding process?
Shawn Ashley: The full joint committee meets Tuesday and it is expected to have a large list of projects to consider. Some of those working groups have met two or three times since the full committee last met back in August. Those that get approved there will be turn in the bills for lawmakers to consider. And the House and the Senate are expected to come back in to the second special session on September 28th, 29th and 30th to consider those bills.
Dick Pryor: There are a lot of needs in this state and a large volume of requests. They got, what, $18 billion worth of requests? Legislators have a couple of years to finish their work on ARPA funding. Is there any incentive to conclude sooner rather than taking the full time to allocate the money?
Shawn Ashley: Well, keep in mind, they've already been at this for a year. Additionally, these funds are meant to be pandemic relief to address some sort of need resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. So, these are needs that are needing to be addressed now rather than a year or two down the road. So, it seems legislators are intent in getting this work done by the end of the year. And there were some indications over the last few weeks that the most recent working group committee meetings would be their last. And that means the upcoming joint committee’s meeting on Tuesday likely will be one of its last as well.
Dick Pryor: So, is there a possibility that this gets resolved before the election in November?
Shawn Ashley: I certainly think so. If you look at the members of the committees, they involve individuals for the most part who either don't have elections coming up and therefore can devote the kind of time that's been needed to get this work done or are, in the case of the Senate, in the first half of their four-year term. So, it seems they are intent in getting this work done with the current members that they have.
Dick Pryor: All right. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. You can find audio and transcripts @kgou.org and get more information @quorumcall.online. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.