Finance committees add safeguards to plan for
Proposal heads to full Assembly in January
STATE HOUSE – The House and Senate finance committees today amended the governor’s proposal for using a portion of Rhode Island’s $1.13 billion American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Funds, adding safeguards and more specifics about how the federal funds will be used. The proposal (2021-H 6494A, 2021-S 1006A) now heads to each chamber for votes, which legislative leaders expect to take soon after the Assembly reconvenes in January.
The committees added $6 million to further enhance support for child care needs to the plan proposed by Gov. Dan McKee. They kept intact the $38.5 million to support services to children and families; $32 million to assist small businesses impacted by COVID-19; $29.5 million to promote affordable housing, housing stability supports and broadband planning; and $13 million for hard-hit tourism, hospitality and event industries, but added reporting requirements, more specifics about the proposed uses of the funds, and other accountability measures to the bill.
“We have a responsibility to spend this money in ways that help everyday Rhode Islanders move forward and ensure that our state and its institutions are able to weather the storm brought on by the pandemic. Our goal has been to make sure the money is spent where it is most needed, particularly in hard-hit sectors like public health, housing and childcare, where resources were already thin before COVID hit,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown).
Said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), “Shoring up child care in particular was a very important priority for us in the Senate. The availability of high-quality, affordable child care is important for the safety and development of our children, and it critical for our workforce and business strength as well. The dollars we invest in childcare have multiplier effect, improving the lives of families and the success of businesses and the state’s economy as a whole.”
With the additional $6 million, the child care initiative now allocates $18.7 million for retention bonuses for child care workers and $300,000 for family childcare start-up incentives and technical assistance grants to encourage much-needed growth.
The committees kept the proposed $5.5 million the governor allocated toward Early Intervention Programs, and $7.5 million for pediatric health. In both cases, lawmakers added more specific wording to ensure the funding is allocated as proposed, and they also tweaked the allocation for Early Intervention to reflect an additional, separate $3.6 million that was recently made available from CARES Act funding for stabilization purposes.
To help ease the housing crisis, the committees kept the $29.5 million allocation the governor proposed, but added requirements that the administration work in conjunction with all other available funds, and linked the money’s use to the development of guidelines for the use of Housing Production Fund lawmakers created this year as a means of pushing for swift action in creating that framework. They also added language specifying the allowable uses of $1.5 million included for housing stability for 500 people experiencing homelessness, and required monthly progress reports on the use of those funds and other included funds for housing to ensure accountability on this critical issue.
To support small business recovery, the committees added language specifying the intended uses of the $32 million they agreed to allocate toward businesses and tourism, and limiting grants to businesses that gross less than $1 million annually and can demonstrate negative impacts caused by the pandemic. They also required that 20 percent of the funds go toward minority-owned businesses.