The Alabama Senate gave near-unanimous approval Tuesday on a bill allocating nearly $772 million in American Rescue Plan act funds to expand broadband connectivity, water and sewer improvement projects, and continued aid to the state’s healthcare providers.
An identical bill passed the House earlier Tuesday afternoon.
The package, sponsored by Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund chairman state Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, approves $277 million for broadband expansion throughout the state, $146.7 million for hospitals and nursing homes, and $225 million for water and sewer improvement projects, among other areas of allocation.
$79.5 million for the state’s Unemployment Compensation Trust fund and $11 million to reimburse the counties for the cost of housing state prisoners are also included within the legislation. Also, $5 million in grants for the installation of wastewater systems in the Alabama Black Belt and other rural areas struggling with adequate wastewater treatment and collection systems.
Jefferson County state Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, proposed an amendment, which would have transferred $30 million away from broadband expansion and into Alabama Housing Trust Fund ($20 million) and Alabama public transportation trust fund ($10 million).
Coleman-Madison, herself a realtor, said that the funds would be used for downpayment assistance for first-time homeowners. However, as read by the Senate secretary, the amendment states the funds given to the Alabama Housing Trust Fund “be used to construct and rehabilitate affordable housing units to address homelessness in the state.”
The amendment was ultimately tabled.
State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, who said he fully supported the bill, raised concerns that the bill had few previsions for urban Alabama, estimating that only “10 to 12 percent” of the approved funds will be used in urban areas of the state.
The bill passed the Senate 26-1. Both the House and Senate bills approved Tuesday will need to be considered by committees in the opposing chambers, then brought before members for final approval.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he expects a vote for final passage Thursday.