Nevada still doesn’t have a lot of guidance on how state and local governments and public agencies can use more than $6 billion in relief funds they’re slated to receive from the American Rescue Plan.
Included in Nevada’s share of ARP money is $165 million for rental assistance. Speaking Thursday to the Nevada Housing Coalition, a group that consists of non-profit organizations, social service providers, businesses and banks, Treasurer Zach Conine expressed optimism that the relief money will help address broader issues underscored by the pandemic, including the state’s lack of affordable housing.
“It’s the largest amount of money Nevada is ever going to get at one time,” Conine said. “This is a big thing for the state. It’s important that we get all of this right.”
Conine’s sentiments echoed those offered by Gov. Steve Sisolak in a video press Wednesday following the state’s Economic Forum, which forecast $586 million more in general fund dollars than previously projected for the upcoming biennium.
In that release, the governor said he was committed to tackling “systemic issues” exposed by the pandemic. The specific actions Sisolak mentioned however were more budgetary than systemic: refill savings drained during the pandemic, restore budget cuts he and legislators made last summer, and bring the state budget “back to baseline.”
‘Fork in the road’
Conine told the housing coalition the state is expected to get $6.6 billion in federal funding, which doesn’t include the billions Nevadans already received in direct economic impact payments, commonly referred to as stimulus checks, unemployment insurance benefits, child tax credits that are effectively a monthly allowance for families, and other program enhancements or expansions in the ARP.
“Every time Nevada has had a downturn, we get to this fork in the road or moment when things start to get better. We’re there,” Conine declared Thursday. “The government makes a choice to either enjoy the good times, go back to ribbon cuttings and high fives and talk about what a great place Nevada is, or do the hard work and fix the systems that have been broken. We are choosing the latter.”
But as with Sisolak’s statement promising to address inequities exposed by the pandemic, details are a work in progress at best.
Sisolak, Conine, and state Democratic legislative leaders in April announced a “recovery framework” which they said would “serve as the foundation to ensure the best use of funds
received directly by the State of Nevada.” Legislative Republicans have complained funding decisions should be made not by the governor, treasurer and Democratic legislative leaders, but by legislative committees normally tasked with vetting spending.
Republican Assembly Minority Floor Leader Tobin Titus responded to the framework announcement by declaring the best use of federal assistance would be to focus on “appropriate one-shot funding” and also “provide Nevada taxpayers relief.”
‘A cake that’s baked’
Federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan will come from 93 agencies that deal with everything from increasing SNAP subsidies to allocating the rental assistance.
There hasn’t been any information or guidance from 44 agencies. Of the remaining 49, the state has received mostly basic information on, such as estimated dollar amounts. It has received specific guidance for less than 20.
“Some information means there has been some work done by the Congressional Budget Office that gives some idea of how much money we are actually getting or what the dollar amount is,” Conine said in an interview following the housing coalition meeting.
One example he pointed to is the Mortgage Assistance Program, which will provide Nevadans with $120 million.
“We’ve got the first 10 percent of that money and the rules around putting together an actual plan,” he said.
Unlike the federal coronavirus relief funds that were passed in March 2020 and allocated throughout the year, the American Rescue Plan is designed to have more guidance for local and state governments for how to use those dollars, and require more forethought, Conine said.
And he said that’s a good thing.
“It’s tough to expect a specific timeline on an absolutely unprecedented thing,” Conine said. “One of the problems we’ve had on the last round of guidance (from the CARES Act) is that it came out, then it changed, then it changed again, then it changed a fifth time, and then they went back to what they said the third time. The process of guidance was an absolute mess.”
The state, he said, has had regular conversations with the Biden Administration and federal agencies about the American Rescue Plan.
“It’s taking time, but we would much rather have a cake that’s baked than a recipe and bunch of raw ingredients that’s going to change,” he said.
He expects further guidance to come in the next month or so, with a lot of eyes on federal funding for state and local government.
“I think the $4.1 billion or so we’re getting in state and local aid, that’s the guidance that a lot of people are waiting on and people are curious about what it says,” Conine said. “It’s all one piece of a larger puzzle.”
There is still yet to be determined about what the money could do. Conine assured each “bucket matters to the people it matters too.”
“We are going to get $11.5 million to low income home energy assistance and money for clean water projects,” he said. “We’re getting $87,000 or so for the Title VII ombudsman that helps individuals who are older who are getting taken advantage of. All of these things matter.”