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The U.S. Senate GOP is trying to stop states from spending some of their COVID relief money

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The U.S. Senate GOP is trying to stop states from spending some of their COVID relief money

Missouri Republican U.S. Senator. Erik Schmitt speaks during a May 15, 2024 press conference on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator from Kansas Roger Marshall is on the left and Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is on the right. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected efforts to roll back Treasury Department guidance on how state and local governments can spend funding approved by Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 46-49 vote on the Congressional Review Act resolution ended an effort by several Republican senators to block the Biden administration from changing the definition of “obligation” as it applies to state and local budget recovery funds and the timeline for spending some of that money. .

Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri said during a floor debate that the change in Treasury Department guidance, released in November, was an attempt to “quickly influence” Congress.

“The Treasury Department’s attempt to keep the COVID spending tap open is an insult to Congress and those who believe in our Constitution, as well as a complete misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Schmitt said.

The fund for state and local governments, Schmitt said, was intended to assist with “revenue shortfalls related to the COVID-19 pandemic” and the law clearly stated that “any costs incurred with money from this fund shall be must have been made by December 31. 2024.”

The interim final rule that the Treasury Department released around Thanksgiving extended that deadline by two years for “administrative and legal costs, such as compliance costs and internal audit requirements,” he said.

“This rule ensures that funding doesn’t go to bridges or broadband, but to bureaucrats,” Schmitt said.

Projects affected in multiple states

Democratic Senator from Oregon Ron Wyden spoke out against the CRA resolution during floor debate, saying it could have affected 17 projects in Georgia, 160 in Michigan, 342 in Ohio, 50 in Arizona, 404 in Montana and 73 in West Virginia.

“Thousands of projects could be closed nationwide. Dozens or even hundreds of jobs were lost,” Wyden said. “This is one of the most unusual voices I’ve seen recently, a real head scratcher.”

Wyden said he saw “no good reason for the U.S. Senate to backtrack on solid, bipartisan progress and allow this chamber to act in a way that leaves more of our nation’s infrastructure in a state of disrepair.”

Schmitt said at a press conference before the vote that the claim that the CRA resolution would have affected projects already underway was a lie.

“Essentially, under existing law, the commitments made before the end of 2024 will be fulfilled,” Schmitt said. “What this says is that you can’t extend that to ’25 and ’26. That was never Congress’ intent here.”

Republican Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas, also speaking at the Republican press conference, said the CRA resolution would recover about $13 billion and even called it “illegal spending.”

“The clock is running out, but Joe Biden is trying to circumvent the law again,” Marshall said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic is over and spending from those laws should be scaled back.

Provinces and cities were against

Schmitt introduced the two-page CRA resolution in February along with Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Marshall and Rick Scott from Florida.

The National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the Government Finance Officers Association urged lawmakers to vote against the CRA in a written statement released Wednesday before the vote.

“The $350 billion SLFRF delivered $65.1 billion to every city and county in America, and since 2021, localities have used these critical resources to meet the unique needs of residents and drive long-term economic prosperity support,” the statement said.

The three organizations wrote that the Treasury Department’s interim final rule “recognized the importance of flexibility in facilitating the effective rollout of recovery funds, including our ability to use funds for certain personnel costs and to recommit funds as necessary.”

The White House released an administration policy statement on Wednesday, saying President Joe Biden would veto the CRA if it reached his desk.

The CRA resolution, the report said, “could lead to mid-term project cancellations, reduced project management and oversight, and increased costs if state and local governments are forced to outsource programs.”

“Nearly all SLFRF funds have been allocated to projects, including infrastructure and disaster relief projects eligible through bipartisan legislation,” the SAP said. “SJ Res. This would create unnecessary uncertainty for recipients implementing projects, jeopardize important work currently underway, and inappropriately limit Treasury’s ability to address ongoing implementation issues.”

The post U.S. Senate GOP seeks to block states from spending some of their COVID relief money appeared first on Kansas Reflector.

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