COVID spending bills pass Alabama legislative committees; could be voted on Tuesday

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Legislative leaders expect the special session to last through Jan. 27.
Legislative leaders expect the special session to last through Jan. 27.

A plan to spend $772 million in Alabama's share of COVID relief funds could get its first votes in the state Legislature on Tuesday.

The House and Senate's General Fund committees Thursday swiftly approved two identical bills that would split most of the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) between broadband projects; water and sewer projects and compensation for hospitals and assisted living homes.

There was little debate over either bill in either committee. Republican leaders have reached a broad consensus on the major spending priorities in the bill. House Democratic leaders said Wednesday they would not oppose the spending plan if it passes in its current form.

Alabama ARPA spending
Infogram

Where the money would go

The bills would put about $276.9 million toward broadband projects and supporting infrastructure. About $230 million would go to water and sewer projects. More than half of that would be directed to high-priority projects in areas hit hard by COVID. $146.7 million would go to health care, including hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities. About $30 million of that would go to rural hospitals.

Legislators would also put about $79.5 million in the state unemployment fund, which would bring it roughly to its pre-pandemic levels. The state would also allocate $20 million to emergency responders, including $10 million to volunteer fire departments, and $5 million for telemedicine.

State officials have wanted to expand broadband for years, but acknowledged on Wednesday that the funds allocated to the project in the current bill would only be a start. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) estimates a full broadband build out in Alabama would cost $4.6 billion. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) says addressing the needs of the nearly 1,200 water and sewer systems in the state the state would cost several billion dollars, though funding from the infrastructure act will be available for that.

More: Special legislative session on COVID relief money opens with pleas for help

The state is expected to get another $1 billion in ARPA funds later this spring. The money must be spent by 2026.

Alabama has already spent about $400 million of its allocated money on two men's prisons slated to go into Elmore and Escambia counties, and $80 million on health care compensation.

Legislative leaders expect the special session to last through Jan. 27.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or blyman@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: COVID spending bills pass Alabama legislative committees

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