Republican Senate leader seeks COVID-19 money for broadband

Republican Senate leader seeks COVID-19 money for
broadband 1

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Republican leader of the Alabama Senate on Tuesday said he would like to use a large portion of the state’s coronavirus relief funds to establish broadband through the state.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said Tuesday that he hoped to put $800 million from an estimated $1.7 billion in federal relief dollars for broadband access. Alabama students are finishing the school year from home because of the pandemic. Marsh said distance learning would have been easier to accomplish if the state had better internet access.

“Had this been in place, you could have had virtual education going on. Teachers could have stayed in touch with their students. … They are off the grid right now in many areas,” Marsh said.

However, it is unclear if broadband access would fall under allowed expenditures of the federal relief act. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office expressed caution and said they will seek guidance on the issue.

“The governor with the team at the Alabama Department of Finance are working to assess the needs that can be covered by this fund, based on guidance issued by the U.S. Treasury. While the governor agrees broadband is essential for education, she will also seek guidance if this is something we can allocate money toward,” spokeswoman Gina Maiola said.

Where internet access is limited, school systems have had to come up with creative solutions such as installing mobile hotspots on school buses that will go out into neighborhoods.

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The two Alabama Senate budget committees met briefly to work on state budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Lawmakers began the year anticipating that they would give pay raises for teachers and state employees, but legislative leaders said Tuesday that those raises were now unlikely because of uncertain revenue outlook.

Alabama lawmakers return to Montgomery on Monday to resume the legislative session.

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