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State and local governments will soon gain new flexibility to spend billions of federal coronavirus relief dollars on things not directly related to the pandemic, including new roads and bridges and aid to people affected by wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.
The broadened spending authority for the previously approved pandemic aid was one of many provisions wrapped into a recently enacted $1.7 trillion spending bill for the federal government’s 2023 budget year. It comes after city, county and state officials lobbied for more than a year for greater flexibility in how they can use a $350 billion pool of aid approved by President Joe Biden and the Democratic-led Congress in March 2021.
The American Rescue Plan act included federal aid for all levels of government — from states and territories down to tiny towns and villages — that was intended to help cover the costs of responding to COVID-19, shore up government finances and invest in longer-term projects to strengthen communities.
Though the program had considerable flexibility as originally implemented by the U.S. Treasury Department, some uses for the money remained limited. The newly expanded spending options are expected to take effect by late February after the Treasury releases updated guidance.
“I think it supercharges the ARPA dollars to be as productive as possible,” said Brittney Kohler, legislative director for transportation and infrastructure at the National League of Cities. She added: “We see this as a really valuable tool to make the most of every federal dollar.”
Under the revised spending rules, states and local governments could use their federal pandemic relief funds to provide the local matching amount necessary to draw down additional federal grants for road and transportation projects, including some funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by Biden in November 2021.
Governments will be allowed to use up to $10 million or 30% of their American Rescue Plan allotment, whichever is greater, for such transportation infrastructure.
There is no cap on how much of their allotment can go toward natural disaster relief, such as temporary housing, food and financial assistance.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.