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More federal help for state COVID-19 needs?

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

With the election now over and two months before a new government is seated, some in Alabama’s congressional delegation say more federal help to states for the coronavirus pandemic could be on the way during the intervening period, depending on various factors.

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile this week told Alabama Daily News he thinks states’ Dec. 30 spending deadline on the current CARES money will be extended by Congress in its lame duck session. He’d also like to see more flexibility in how that money can be spent.

And Byrne is not ruling out another relief package, though much relies on Democrat leadership in the House being able to work with Republicans in the Senate.

“There is pretty broad consensus across the Congress about a number of elements of a COVID bill,” he said. “What I’ve said all along is, let’s go pass the stuff we have a consensus on, get something done, get some relief out there. And then, this is not the last bill, but a Congress should come back in January and talk about more. But to not do anything because (Nancy Pelosi) wants $3 trillion and we don’t want to spend that much money, particularly on bailing out these blue states and cities, I just think that’s foolish.

“Most people agree that we should give a second round of PPP loans to people who’ve already taken them out because they seem to have worked well,” Byrne said. “Most people agree we need to send more money to schools because schools have been struggling with both in-person and digital learning. And we know that the health care folks are going to need some more funding.”

“… The biggest holdup has been Pelosi’s insistence that we give over a trillion dollars to state local governments who still this late in the game haven’t been able to spend $150 billion. That’s been a non-starter.”

Last month, ADN reported there may be some shuffling of CARES money as the deadline to spend it approaches.

Earlier this week, $957.5 million had not been spent, though some may be committed and spent soon.

Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell said she’s alarmed at the recent rise in the Covid-19 cases in Alabama.

“The House has passed two comprehensive COVID relief bills since the CARES Act, with no action from the Senate,” Sewell told Alabama Daily News. “We hope that in the lame duck, Senate Republicans will come to the table to negotiate with Democrats on COVID relief legislation that provides relief to the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, the small businesses that are struggling to stay open, and local governments in desperate need of additional resources to pay for basic services. Additionally, the COVID relief bill must include additional resources for COVID testing and health care providers.”

“The state of Alabama received $1.8 billion in funding from the CARES Act, and there is no shortage of need in our state,” Sewell said. “I am concerned that we are facing an end-of-year deadline that may arrive without the state allocating all of our funds, and this is unacceptable. As of the beginning of November the state still had $975 million in unspent dollars. The state must continue to approach this challenge holistically and provide the needed support to our local governments, public health facilities, small businesses, and workers who have been terribly harmed by this pandemic.”

This week, a group of advocacy organizations, including the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, sent Ivey a letter asking her to direct the unspent CARES money toward families and others impacted by or at risk of COVID-19.

“Our recommendations focus on individual needs that remain unmet and include examples of approved CARES Act spending in other states that have been effective in getting CARES Act funds directly to eligible, hurting individuals and supporting services,” the letter said. “Guidance from the U.S. Treasury has been clear that emergency financial assistance to individuals and families directly impacted by loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an allowable use. Rather than sending unspent funds back to Washington, we strongly recommend investing in the health, safety, and economic futures of the people of Alabama.”

Rep. Robert Aderholt said it’s possible another COVID-19 relief package is wrapped in the fiscal 2021 spending bill, but it’s too early to say.

Asked what should be in a possible package, Aderholt said the bigger question is what should not be in it.

“The left wing, progressive policies that have dominated Pelosi’s HEROES bills since summer and trillions of dollars.  There were just too many items in that bill that had nothing to do with fighting COVID, that, along with the high cost, just made unpalatable.”

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