State ARPA funds being used to meet community needs
Following the successful conclusion of the 2022 regular session, we immediately convened in special session to continue work disbursing the state’s nearly $1.9 billion portion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) pandemic relief funds. The Legislature established the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding last summer to assist in Oklahoma’s planning for the relief funds
This committee has been working tirelessly, collecting public input on projects and areas of need. Originally, they were only to serve in an advisory capacity for the governor but given the massive amount of work that they’ve conducted, the Legislature decided to take over dispersal of these critical funds to get them into our local communities faster and more efficiently.
We’ve already approved $75 million for water projects statewide; $2 million for broadband mapping and another $365,000 for broadband workforce development. Addressing critical healthcare needs is also one of our top priorities. We appropriated $7.5 million of the federal funds for behavioral health projects for children; over $4.5 million for nursing workforce development; $50 million for higher education nursing programs; and another nearly $635,000 for Career Tech nursing programs.
This past week, we continued our work voting to spend another $69 million in ARPA funds. A lion’s share of this would go to additional healthcare efforts, including $15 million to complete the Northeastern State University School of Optometry, one of only 23 optometric training schools nationwide.
We approved another $8.8 million for Career Tech nursing programs and $250,000 for healthcare workforce development training. An additional $20 million was passed for further state water projects; $500,000 to establish the State Broadband Office; and $25 million to provide grants to nonprofits dealing with pandemic recovery. The projects are now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his final approval.
The joint committee will continue meeting to decide how best to appropriate the remaining funds. This is a large undertaking and one that the Legislature is taking extremely seriously as these funds will greatly impact our state for decades to come. Improving our healthcare system by addressing the dangerous nursing and healthcare worker shortage, ensuring all Oklahomans have access to high-speed internet and making critical investments in community water systems. These are just some of the many areas that will be overhauled with these one-time funds.
The Senate is also going to spend the interim researching various proposed tax reforms to find responsible solutions that help hardworking families but don’t put our state in trouble should there be an economic downturn.
As you’ll remember, when session began in February several tax proposals were introduced, including cutting the grocery tax and personal income tax, given our state’s historic revenues and strong state economy. However, our nation is on the verge of a recession as inflation and the price of goods and services continue to skyrocket thanks to the failed policies of the Biden administration. You’ll recall Oklahoma faced historic revenue shortfalls from 2015-2017, totaling around $3 billion. It was devastating for our state agencies, services, and employees. We never want to be in that position again so we’ve built up our state savings to more than $2 billion and we’re going to see how we can responsibly provide tax reform.
Remember, once taxes are cut, only a vote of the people or a legislative super majority can raise them back up, and no one is for raising taxes but that is what pays our state’s bills. I’m pleased to have been appointed to be on this new tax reform working group and will keep you updated on our research.
You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.