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House committee approves ARPA spending plan

Only Republican Rep. Arnold Mooney voted against the bill, citing concerns about the way the distribution has been handled.

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The Alabama House Ways and Means General Fund committee gave a favorable report to the state’s plan to distribute the second round of federal ARPA funds Thursday in a quick and mostly supportive meeting.

Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, was the lone “no” vote on the bill after expressing concerns during the brief discussion.

“It is the individual and corporate responsibility of our body to make these decisions,” Mooney said, questioning the way the Legislature has decided on the distribution.

Committee Chair Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, said the ARPA Oversight Commission has been heavily involved in talks with the agencies about how they would expend the funds and works on behalf of the full body.

“I think that’s the voice of the Legislature,” Reynolds said. 

Mooney also questioned whether the $260 million in funding for broadband expansion would be spent on the “middle-mile” program or the last mile, telling committee members it was “concerning” as he had received two different answers from two different people in the executive branch.

Reynolds said the decisions on how the funding is spent will be decided by the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority based on needs.

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Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked Reynolds why the money isn’t being directed to specific community entities.

Reynolds said the language of the bill is intentionally broad so that “any of the organizations that fit within those guidelines can submit applications.”

“Early on in the verbiage, we began to name some of those organizations and we realized we might do exactly that Ms. Hall, we may exclude someone that maybe we did not think about,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds told media after the vote that he “certainly hopes” the $100 million designated for hospitals will be enough to keep them afloat, but said deciding the distribution levels was a delicate balancing act between several priorities for the Legislature.

Some items that were originally in the ARPA funding, including funding for volunteer fire departments and drug treatment programs, were removed according to Reynolds with plans to address those issues elsewhere.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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