Most every group that provides services paid for fully or in-part by state government is enormously interested in the impending distribution of the $1.87 billion coming to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The funds will be allocated over a two-year period and must be spent by 2024. The funding could be transformational for state and local governments, and the ARPA requirements are very broad.
The money could have been distributed in several ways, but to their credit, the legislature and governor have opted for a deliberate approach to allow adequate time to consider all alternatives to ensure the best use for the short-term funding. Since the ARPA funds are temporary in nature, they want to avoid using the money to create new programs or add-ons to existing programs that will require ongoing financial commitment.
The Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding, chaired by the respective House and Senate Appropriations chairmen, Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, met last Thursday to hear initial reports of priorities from the Working Group co-chairs. The priorities were developed after public hearings during the summer and fall. The Working Groups are made up of legislators and members of the executive branch appropriate to the subject matter.
So far, the Transportation, Infrastructure and Rural Development Working Group has homed in on expanding high speed internet (broadband) across the state, including expanding the workforce that will be needed for the effort. Water and wastewater projects will also be priorities. The Economic Development and Workforce Working Group will focus on expanding Oklahoma’s workforce, while the Health and Human Services Working Group plans to increase Oklahoma’s healthcare workforce to address current and future needs. The Government Transportation and Collaboration Working Group will focus on enhancing the quality of state data services and work together with the other working groups and city, county, and tribal governments.
It seems reasonable that these initial priorities will more fully develop, and perhaps expand, as the working groups consider various proposals. Critical infrastructure is particularly well suited for use of ARPA funds because capital projects can provide benefits over many years without excessively increased operational costs. For those intending to make proposals for funding, it’s helpful to have this information from the committee.