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Special Session

The ARPA special session: Dividing up a billion dollars

Alabama has a billion dollars to spend, and there’s an outline for how they plan to do it.

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The 2023 Legislative Session will start this week in Montgomery, and so too, apparently, will a special session. 

During her Tuesday evening State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature, Gov. Kay Ivey plans to call the Legislature into a special session to officially disperse more than $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds, according to sources familiar with the plan. 

Plans for a quick special session at the start of the 2023 session have long been rumored, and a draft of the proposed ARPA distribution of funds has been floating around for a couple of weeks. 

While the draft is nothing more than an outline, and will most certainly change once lawmakers start negotiating and arguing over the funds, the draft at least provides a general idea of how lawmakers and the governor’s office would like to see the $1 billion divided up. 

According to that draft, a copy of which was provided to APR, more than two-thirds of the money – some $660 million – will be devoted to water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. That includes $400 million for water and sewer projects that will be doled out through grants from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Presumably, many of those will be directed to the Black Belt counties, where sewage issues and drinking water problems continue to plague residents. 

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will be responsible for $260,000 in broadband grants, as the state continues its push to provide decent high-speed internet access across the state. 

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Just less than $340 million will be allocated to healthcare services across Alabama, with the majority of that money – some $200 million – going towards reimbursements for hospitals and nursing homes for eligible expenses from the pandemic. Another $80 million will go towards reimbursing the state employees’ and public education employees’ insurance boards. 

The state also plans to allocate $25 million toward expanding mental health services around Alabama. Another $20 million will be used for a clinical trial that would provide better access to personalized medicine for citizens. Expansion of telemedicine will get $9 million. 

Lawmakers also plan to devote $55 million towards reimbursing public assistance programs that were a lifeline to struggling Alabamians during the pandemic and that have not fully recovered from that crisis. The Department of Finance will provide grants to eligible programs that provide services to food banks, senior citizens, domestic violence victims, welfare recipients, veterans, homeless people and various other groups. 

How close lawmakers will come to sticking with the outline is unclear, but there has been little talk of heated debates over how the money is dispersed. It’s also unclear if lawmakers will attempt to put more restraints on the various state agencies tasked with doling out the money. Under the outline, those agencies would have broad discretion on how the funds are allocated and who gets them.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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