Senate Bill Allows COVID-19 Relief to Fund Infrastructure

The Senate passed a bill on October 19 to make several categories of infrastructure investments and disaster relief eligible for unspent COVID-19 relief dollars. The legislation also extends the deadline to utilize relief funding if budgeted for eligible infrastructure projects.

[Above photo Sen. John Cornyn by Gage Skidmore]

That bill – entitled the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure, and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act and sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., and Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif. – allows state governments to use unspent monies from the state/local fiscal recovery fund within the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan or ARP on natural disaster relief and infrastructure needs.

More than 20 organizations – including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – endorsed the bill. AASHTO also co-signed a March 28 letter with 35 other transportation organizations to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seeking “clear guidance and flexibility” regarding the use of ARP funds to support transportation infrastructure projects.

AASHTO’s transportation policy team noted that the fact sheet Treasury issued with its interim final rule – specifically on page 60 – conformed to that request.

“This legislation puts decision-making power at the local level and gives these leaders more flexibility to invest in the most critical projects for their communities, whatever those might be,” Sen. Cornyn noted in a statement.

Sen. Padilla

This bill will provide state, local, tribal, and territorial governments the flexibility they need to better use federal resources to care for and serve their residents,” added Sen. Padilla. “This will ultimately help strengthen our response to the continued fight against COVID.”

The bill also allows the use of those funds for emergency relief from natural disasters and creates a process for local officials to decline funds if their jurisdictions did not suffer budget shortfalls during COVID – an option not currently available via the ARP.

It does not place spending mandates on recipients of COVID funding and does not reclaim any distributed funding, Sen. Cornyn noted.

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