The recently passed COVID-19 relief package will inject millions into the coffers of Idaho’s local governments, but it’s still up in the air how it will be spent.
The American Rescue Plan included $1,400 checks to millions of Americans, enhanced unemployment benefits, funded grants to small businesses and boosts to school districts like the other packages. But, it also included millions in direct assistance to the state of Idaho, county and city governments set to be paid out in the next several weeks.
Limits on spending from the feds
Ada County is slated to receive $93.4 million from the package. County Clerk Phil McGrane said the county staff and commissioners are still sifting through the regulations on how the funds can be spent before they act. Funds from the American Rescue Plan must be spent by the end of 2024, instead of the end of 2020 like the CARES Act.
“I anticipate that over the next month we will be working internally along with the commissioners to come up with a process to help determine how to handle everything when the funds come in,” he wrote in an email. “At this time we have not made any plans. We simply need to know more first.”
The funds can’t be used for just anything. Some possible uses include assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, making investments in water, sewer, and broadband or transfer the funds to a “public benefit corporation involved in the transfer of passengers,” according to the National Association of Counties.
The funds can be used to provide government services if there was a big hit to tax collections, but it cannot be used to provide tax relief. It can also not be deposited in any pension fund. Any local government that fails to comply with these rules will have to repay the funds to the U.S. Treasury.
The Idaho State Legislature is possibly setting up the state to challenge these rules after the House passed a $1.8 million income tax cut last week. Most of the tax cut would come from a special fund dedicated to revenue collected from online purchases, but millions would still come from the general fund, according to Boise State Public Radio.
It’s unknown if this tax cut, using the general fund with the relief package dollars from the federal government, violates the law and would require the state to pay the assistance back.
Meridian and Boise still mulling options
Both the City of Boise and the City of Meridian are waiting for more guidance from the federal government and planning on how they can spend the funds allocated. Boise is set to receive $35.58 million, which Mayor Lauren McLean said will be used to “recover faster and stronger.”
“Over the weeks and months to come, we will be announcing the specifics on how this money will benefit everyone in Boise,” she said in a news release. “The long-term investments combined with one-time infusions to key areas will help build back a better Boise for all residents. The sacrifices we’ve all made and the partnerships we’ve created this past year have prepared us for what’s next and will ensure a more resilient community moving forward.”
Meridian will receive $12.21 million, according to a dashboard of contributions to cities and counties provided by McGrane.
Meridian Communication Manager, Shandy Lam, says that the city has not received guidance on the American Rescue Plan and is not able to currently speak on what the city plans to do with the funding.