MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama has about six weeks to spend almost $1 billion in remaining coronavirus relief funds or the money will revert to Washington, D.C., prompting concerns from advocacy groups that the state will leave money on the table that could be used to help hurting Alabamians.
States have until Dec. 30 to spend their share of CARES Act dollars or the money must be returned. Alabama has so far spent about $850 million of its $1.7 billion allocation, according to a dashboard maintained by the state Department of Finance.
“We’re in the same situation as all the other states,” said Rep. Steve Clouse, who heads the House General Fund budget committee. Clouse said he is concerned the state might have as much as $400 million unspent by the end of the year, and added the state may not have a choice but to send the money back unless Congress extends the deadline.
More than 80 organizations, including advocacy groups for low-income families and people with disabilities, sent Republican Gov. Kay Ivey a letter suggesting ways to use the money. The groups noted Alabama was one of the poorest states in the country, with 800,000 residents living in poverty “before this pandemic devastated the economy.”
“These CARES Act funds provide our best hope to ensure the economic downturn does not force these families into long term, catastrophic conditions that will impact generations to come,” said the letter signed by Alabama Arise, Alabama Appleseed and other organizations.
The groups suggested Alabama could follow the lead of states that have set up programs to help people with rent, mortgage or utility bill assistance if their income has been impacted by COVID-19. Other possibilities they suggested were relief to keep child care centers operational and help for food banks and food assistance programs.
“If Alabama had no needs made worse by the pandemic and the resulting recession, then we would say, ‘Yeah, return the money to the feds.’ But Alabama has very real, immediate needs. We still have people unemployed. We have some of the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation,” said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise.
Clouse said one possibility under discussion is to further shore up the state’s unemployment compensation fund that has taken a hit during the periods of massive unemployment.
The Alabama Department of Finance said the funds have to be used for COVID-19 response expenses incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30.
Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Ivey, said as the spending deadline approaches, the administration is urging everyone who has been allocated funds to submit their reimbursements or applications. She said they are also evaluating the “need to shift funds again to potentially address areas that will impact our economy, specifically small businesses.”
“Gov. Ivey remains focused on getting this money in the hands of those who need it. … As Gov. Ivey has pointed out, $1.7 billion is a hefty chunk of money to spend in six months, but she and the team at Finance will continue working to get this spent and into the hands of Alabamians,” Maiola said.
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