Texas lawmakers are weighing how to spend the $ 16 billion state COVID-19 aid
AUSTIN (Nexstar) – With only two weeks left in the third special session, state lawmakers are weighing in committee for the first time on Monday how to channel federal COVID-19 aid for the first time.
State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, outlined the first draft of Senate Law 8 during the Senate Finance Committee hearing Monday morning.
“Senate Bill 8 includes $ 7.2 billion to replenish the Unemployment Benefit Fund to ensure businesses don’t face an increase in unemployment taxes due to layoffs related to the pandemic; $ 3 billion to provide hospital staff, purchase therapeutic drugs, and support regional infusion centers; $ 3.7 billion to cover salaries and benefits for government employees directly involved in pandemic response; US $ 500.5 million for broadband expansion, ”said Nelson.
“$ 200 million in cybersecurity; $ 160 million to help fund crime victims programs; $ 286 million to Teacher Retirement System to meet COVID-related health claims; $ 237.8 million to expand access to mental health care, ”Nelson continued.
The bill was followed by hours of testimony in which industries across Texas asked for some of that funding, from tourism to the arts.
Lawmakers wanted to make sure they didn’t double up on previously allocated federal funds, including Senator Charlies Perry, R-Lubbock.
“Can or do we know if we are duplicating in dollars?” Perry asked the Texas budgetary authority.
But LBB’s Eduardo Rodriguez said the state did not have a system for consistently tracking this information unless the money was channeled through a state agency.
“It is difficult to try to get local facilities, hospitals that are not under the direct jurisdiction of the state to respond or provide this information,” Rodriguez said, saying that no information will be available to lawmakers for the next several weeks .
Unlike hospitals and nursing homes, Perry pointed out that other frontline workers, such as family doctors, have not yet received anything from the state.
“You didn’t get a PSA COVID dollar … that’s a legitimate request,” Perry said.
The industry, which was faced with staffing problems before 2020, has only seen these problems increase since the beginning of COVID-19. That has forced parents like Jeff Parker to keep their children in hospitals and desperate for a nurse at home.
His four-year-old daughter Dallas, qualified for 168 hours of home nursing per week, has been in the hospital for weeks.
“From around March last year, when all of the COVID hit, we started seeing a shortage of nurses,” Parker said.
“My wife and I worked around the clock, slept about four hours a night, worked shifts, so I don’t usually go to bed until one or 1.30 a.m. And then my wife – our day starts at 1:30 in the morning, ”said Parker. He hopes lawmakers will hear parents like him and consider a temporary boost to the industry, even if it’s only about PPE.
“I think the funding would help. It would encourage people to go back to the houses and pay bonuses and only a competitive wage rate. You know, if you can make more money at any of these gas stations than you could possibly work with a medically vulnerable child, you will get the better pay, ”said Parker.
However, this is only the first frame. The legislature has until the end of the day to submit final applications.
“Include the suggested billing language and suggest where you would reduce the funds in the bill to pay for your request,” said Nelson.
The country is still waiting for a final decision by the federal government on what exactly can be covered with the aid funds. This decision is expected by the end of the year.
For now, the state relies on the latest general guidance from the federal government, which states that funds must be used to combat, prevent and mitigate the effects of COVID-19.
If the state allocates funds to an agency but the federal government decides that it does not fall under the limits it has set, that money goes back into the general revenue of the state, with the same spending rules that the federal government lands on.