Georgia prepares to take requests for big-money COVID-19 relief grants

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Georgia is about a fortnight far away from taking applications from governments, nonprofits, and business groups seeking a bit of the $4.8 billion the state is receiving as a part of the federal COVID-19 relief plan. Lawmakers, agency directors, and lobbyists on Thursday listened to a presentation from Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget office detailing how the method will work once applications start coming on Aug. 1.

Three committees — focused on broadband expansion, water and sewer infrastructure, and ways to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic — were appointed by Kemp last month. The economic fallout committee met Thursday. State agencies, local governments, industries, and nonprofits are going to be eligible to use until Aug. 31 at opb.georgia.gov. Members of the committees — lawmakers and agency officials — will judge the applications in September.

Ultimately, under state law, Kemp will make the ultimate decision on whether to approve committee recommendations, and grants are targeted to be announced in mid-October. But that timeline could also be optimistic and depend upon the number of applications. “This is that the first time we’ve ever done anything like this,” said Kelly Farr, director of the Office of Design and Budget. “This may be a process that’s getting to continually evolve.” This round of applications would allocate about $875 million of the $2.4 billion the state has received thus far, consistent with the OPB.

Most of the committee members come from outside of metro Atlanta, which is additionally where most of the cash in some areas, like for expanding high-speed internet, are going to be spent. Of the 20 lawmakers Kemp appointed to committees, only two are from the five core metro Atlanta counties, and not one is from Atlanta itself. Lawmakers have involved a transparent process with such a lot of taxpayer money at stake. But some lawmakers who were left off the committees noted that it took detection to seek out out about Thursday’s meeting. A notice was posted on a page of the OPB’s website, although you had to understand where to seem and there wasn’t a link to the meeting, which was held largely virtually.

OPB officials said they’re going to post applications once they are available, and therefore the grants are going to be made public once they’re awarded. They said meetings are going to be recorded and posted on the website. The $1.9 billion relief package that President Joe Biden signed in March is sending billions to Georgia cities and faculty districts also . While a serious economic downturn was expected from COVID-19, economies in some states, including Georgia, bounced back relatively quickly. The state in the week announced a $3.2 billion increase in tax collections in fiscal 2021, which ended June 30.

Some states decide to use relief money to fill holes left by declining local tax collections. Others are talking up proposals to repair aging water, sewer, and transportation systems, to enhance psychological state programs, and to make the infrastructure needed to supply high-speed internet to the many Americans who don’t have it.  The need for expanding high-speed internet access — particularly in rural Georgia — has been a hot topic at the overall Assembly for years, but lawmakers could never come up with how to buy it without raising taxes and costs . That talk only accelerated when schools closed down at the beginning of the pandemic and distance learning took the place of in-person instruction.

The money coming to Georgia are often used broadly for COVID-19 response, including making direct payments to Georgians, providing aid to small businesses, giving extra pay to “essential workers,” funding job training and placement services, assisting hard-hit areas of the economy like the hospitality and travel industries, and paying for infrastructure projects.

Last year, funding from the federal CARES Act purchased Georgia’s response to the pandemic. Kemp also used $1.5 billion in federal pandemic relief money to prop up the fund that pays unemployment benefits after a record number of Georgians lost their jobs. That, Kemp said, kept the state from having to boost unemployment taxes on businesses. a number of the new relief can also attend prop the system, if necessary. Federal relief money that visited the Georgia Department of Education was used for $1,000 teacher bonuses, and additional federal money indirectly purchased state employee bonuses also.

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