Nevada Treasurer Zach Conine, Gov. Steve Sisolak and Susie Martinez, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the AFL-CIO, listen to union members discuss ideas for spending American Rescue Plan funds. (Photo courtesy AFL-CIO)
Could Nevada use the $6.7 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act to raise wages for certain workers? No.
But could the state use money to provide one-time bonuses for essential workers, such as grocery store employees, who provided needed services during the pandemic? Possibly.
Officials are quite a ways off from deciding how exactly the billions of dollars allotted to the state and various agencies will be spent.
While seeking specific proposals through the “Nevada Recovers Listening Tour,” which launched in August to garner input and ideas throughout the state, Gov. Steve Sisolak emphasized Wednesday the funding “is one shot money” and couldn’t be used to address issues that would need follow-up funding.
“I’m the first to tell you that our home health care workers are grossly underpaid,” he said. “Unfortunately, this money is one time money. We can’t raise the wages because after one year, what are we going to do to keep the raises up? … To use this for raises would be a false hope for people because it’s not going to be there after the first year.”
Nevada received $6.7 billion through ARP funds, which includes $2.7 billion specifically for the state general fund, $1.04 billion toward cities and counties, and direct pots of money for issues like housing, food assistance and transportation.
The money comes with specific guidelines from the U.S. Treasury for how each allotment can be used.
“There was money sent to the state we’re going to be responsible for investing,” Sisolak said. “The cities got money. The counties got money. K-12 education got money. Higher education got money. Every entity got their piece of the pie. Now, it’s how they invest that money.”
Sisolak along with Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine hosted a listening tour with the AFL-CIO to listen to union members and workers on what ideas they had.
The tour was in conjunction with “Jobs and Workers Week,” in which Sisolak has visited various state projects and met with union members.
It’s not just vague proposals Sisolak and Conine are soliciting. They are encouraging people to be as specific with their submissions as possible.
“When you come with ideas, be as specific as you possibly can with the ideas,” he told the group Wednesday. “If the idea is we need to help with homelessness, it’s a great point but at the 30,000 foot level. We need something more specific like we want to buy a hotel and turn it into a homeless shelter or transitional housing.”
Over the last two months, groups such as the Nevada Housing Coalition have submitted specific recommendations for the state could invest in systemic problems like investing $500 million in affordable housing with a focus on units for low-income renters.
Ideas offered by workers Sisolak met with Wednesday included providing $1,000 bonuses for grocery store workers, buying new equipment to be used for apprenticeship training, bolstering apprenticeship programs and setting up a fund specifically for Black women trying to start their own business.
One person suggested bonuses or training opportunities to attract more school bus drivers to contend with a statewide shortage.
“It’s inexcusable that the situation with bus drivers exists today,” Sisolak said. “How it ever got so out of hand is beyond me. You have 300 people show up to complain about having to wear a mask in a school, but you’re not getting parents to show up and say, ‘my kid is not getting to school on time because they don’t pay bus drivers enough money.’ ”
Sisolak added he had a “lengthy discussion with the superintendent.”
“He called me up and he was hopeful we could use some National Guard folks to drive buses,” he said. “I told him that’s not his problem. His problem is one they don’t pay enough money to school bus drivers.”
Sisolak also criticized the use of split shifts, which he said makes workers “go from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. then off until 1 p.m then go from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.”
“You get 30 hours a week. You don’t get any benefits. Your shift stinks,” Sisolak said. “They have to fix this problem. That’s an internal problem. A quick fix to have (national) guard drive buses isn’t it.”
The school bus driver shortage, he added, is a school district problem.
ARP also allocated $1.7 billion for K-12 education.
“They have to develop a plan,” Sisolak said. “We can’t solve everyone else’s problem. We have problems of our own.”
The 75-day listening tour state officials launched this summer is expected to wrap up in mid-October.
Nevada has until December 2024 to allocate ARP funds and until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend the money.
Conine said every proposal has to be submitted to the Nevada Recovers Listening Tour, which is part of the Treasury guidance.
“We need to be able to tell the Treasury and the White House where this idea came from,” he said.
The benefit from collecting proposals in a database, he added, was it would allow the state to connect people to existing programs that are similar to the ideas being pitched.
“One of the things we found is that we will be able to connect individuals with programs that already exist but for whatever reason they don’t know about,” Conine said. “Some of these problems we are not going to need funding to solve because the state is already spending money doing it.”
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