It’s a little difficult to track, but I believe the Legislature so far has appropriated about $202 million of the $1.87 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding from the federal government. The state has been a little slow out of the gate, but it looks like legislators are on track to begin making more ARPA spending decisions beginning in July. The Legislature, dissatisfied with the governor’s decision-making and process in spending the earlier Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding appropriated by Congress, created a special ARPA fund from which to appropriate the money.
I think looking at what legislators have done with the money so far may provide a guide to those interested in obtaining funding and help them structure their presentations to the ARPA working groups. The Legislature appears to be allocating the money in a coordinated way into services that can make a lasting impact on the state and communities. So far, the money appropriated has been spent on much-needed water projects for local communities, improving health care-workforce training in the state, and creating a grant program for non-profits providing direct services to Oklahomans.
Senate Bill 6, passed in the special session, appropriates $25 million for grants to non-profit organizations in the state. SB 11, also passed in the special session, set the legal parameters for the program. The $25 million will provide $50,000 grants for each qualifying non-profit with an annual revenue no greater than $750,000 and $75,000 grants for each qualifying non-profit with an annual revenue greater than $750,000.
To qualify, entities must be a 501(c)(3) organization; provide direct services to residents of Oklahoma; be in good standing with the Office of the Secretary of State; be in compliance with applicable federal and Oklahoma tax laws for tax years 2019, 2020, and 2021; be able to demonstrate a negative financial impact directly related to the pandemic between January 1, 2020, and March 31, 2022, as may be specified by rules to be promulgated by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce; and enter into a contract with the Department. Hopefully, the Department will promulgate the rules soon.
SB 429, passed in the regular session, appropriated $95 million for water projects throughout the state. The bill provides $25 million for projects in communities with less than 7,000 population, $20 million to communities larger than 7,000, $5 million for communities that own dams with the latest condition assessment of “poor” or “unsatisfactory,” $20 million to match tribal investment in rural water infrastructure projects within areas of tribal reservations, and $25 million to convert portions of an open-ditch irrigation system to pipe within the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District. Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the $20 million to match tribal investment because he didn’t like the reference to tribal reservations. Legislators re-passed the $20 million to match tribal investments during the special session in SB 4 without referring to tribal reservations.
Legislators identified early on the shortage of personnel in the health care workforce and decided to use significant funding to make a long-term investment in health care training and education. Funding has been spread out over several colleges and universities and career technology schools with SB 1458, passed during the regular session, appropriating about $55.2 million for various programs. The special session added $15 million to contribute to construction of a new school of optometry at Northeastern Oklahoma University. There were a couple of other health care related smaller appropriations.