The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee on Wednesday approved an amended version of the state’s planned disbursement of more than $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds, with the bill now passing to the Senate for consideration.
The bill passed amended 12-0, with state Senators Sam Givhan, R-Hunstville, Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, each abstaining to vote on the measure.
State Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, offered an amendment to the House bill that allowed the use of federal funds for storm water infrastructure projects by local governments. Under the amendment, half of the $400 million in federal funds cleared for use on water and sewer infrastructure projects could be used on storm water infrastructure projects. Half of the $200 million would also require up to a 35 percent matching grant from local governments to further elongate funds, according to Elliot.
“Counties and cities know how to do stormwater projects, and I think they can get those projects on the ground pretty quickly,” Elliot said. “So this allows the expenditure of those funds in a quicker manner for counties and cities to use it for that benefit.”
During a joint legislative review on ARPA funding earlier in February, Elliot voiced his concerns over sewage overflows into Mobile Bay and the surrounding rivers and streams in his district, which is located in southeastern Baldwin County.
At that same meeting, Elliot said he may “spend a lot of time on the floor” if placement of federal relief funds weren’t being considered “not only in places that need it financially, but that are seeing huge infrastructure needs.”
Elliot said on Wednesday that “there are still some other concerns” he has on the overall bill but did not specify what shape those concerns took.
The bulk of the federal funds, some $660 million, are earmarked for eligible water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure investments. The next largest section, roughly $339 million, will go towards state health care, the majority in two $100 million chunks in reimbursements for both hospitals and nursing homes meant to counter costs incurred as a result of the pandemic.
That amount is well below the $375 million that had been previously requested for Alabama hospitals, according to the Alabama Hospital Association earlier this week.
State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, who chair’s the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee, said on Wednesday the decision came together after a “great deal of discussion; fighting” and was still being argued as late as 8:15 a.m that morning.
“It’s the best we can do with the circumstances we have, and it’s what the consensus feels like we can do,” Albritton said.
Albritton added that there was little prospect for more assistance to hospitals in the near future.
In the same meeting, the House companion bill to the Senate’s $59 million supplemental appropriation to the Alabama Trust Fund passed without discussion. That bill moves to the full House for consideration.