by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
October 20, 2021
Affordable housing. Food insecurity. Child care assistance. Lack of access to health care.
Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Treasurer Zach Conine spent nearly three months of the Nevada Recovers Listening Tour criss-crossing the state asking people what problems plagued their communities and how $6.7 billion of federal funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act could be used to provide solutions.
Speaking Tuesday at the listening tour’s final event, Sisolak said the issues repeatedly brought up by people weren’t new to the state and “much of what you told us confirms needs we already knew existed.”
What hadn’t previously existed is an unprecedented federal infusion of money that could be used to start addressing systemic issues.
“It’s not money that we can rely on to come into our state year after year,” Sisolak said. “That’s why we must be smart on how we use these funds. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest into the Nevada that we want.”
The state conducted over 123 events, including presentations to local governments, since August, which Conine called “the largest public engagement process in our state’s history.”
“A once-in-a-generation opportunity demanded a once-in-a-generation effort,” he said. “We have this opportunity and with it we have a sacred obligation to ensure that these dollars are invested as effectively as possible. To accomplish this, we needed to get ideas directly from communities so we could make sure the funds help the greatest number of people, especially those with the highest needs.”
The state received more than 2,500 proposals for suggestions on how to solve problems such as the lack of housing and the need for broadband, though Sisolak said some ideas were duplicative.
“[It’s] the largest one-time infusion in Nevada’s history, but it won’t fix every area of systemic underinvestment.”
“Some of those proposals are very generic, such as more money into housing or more money into child care,” Conine added. “The other proposals, we are going to work with state agencies and experts in the field as well as outside consultants to help connect ideas to different pools of money.”
In the months ahead, Sisolak said the state plans to release details on “the vetting of the proposals, the proposals that have been selected and how they are going to be funded.”
“Our nonprofits need help providing critical relief to our communities,” Sisolak said. “Our families need help with child care, with jobs and with housing. Our small businesses need help with the sacrifices that they’ve had to make. These are the kinds of investments Nevadans deserve as we get out of this pandemic.”
The Nevada Current previously reported a recommendation submitted by the Nevada Housing Coalition to direct $500 million toward the state’s housing crisis.
Even as unprecedented as the amount of funding the state received, Conine warned that “the magnitude of this response vastly exceeds” the funds.
The $6.7 billion “represents the largest one-time infusion in Nevada’s history, but it won’t fix every area of systemic underinvestment,” Conine said. “It’s also massively complex and represents dollars that went directly to the state as well as cities, counties, tribal governments, the school districts, higher education and more than 100 separate programmatic buckets with thousands of pages of guidance.”
The state, for instance, received $2.7 billion specifically for its general fund while local governments were allocated $1.04 billion.
There were also specific pots of money for specific purposes, such as $134 million for infrastructure, $338 million for housing, $1.7 billion for K-12 education and $23 million for food assistance.
It will be a delicate balance of deciding which priorities should be funded by which pot of money.
Some ARP funds have already been allocated toward projects.
Conine said the state recently authorized $5 million “in the first-of-the-nation program to help individuals with disabilities succeed and grow.”
The Transforming Opportunities for Toddlers and Students (TOTS) grant program is expected to launch Oct. 25 and provide grants of $5,000 to families with children with disabilities to help pay for school tuition, transportation, housing and other disability-related expenses.
It’s not the first allotment of money.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers allocated $54 million in ARP funding “to replace the unemployment system that had never been properly invested in, and invested more than $330 million to repay what Nevada borrowed from the unemployment trust fund, helping to shield small businesses from an additional tax burden,” Conine said.
The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee also has committed more than $200 million “to begin what will be a major investment in our state’s child care system,” Conine said.
In addition to the state’s listening tour, some local governments, including Clark County, and state departments, including the Nevada Department of Education, have held meetings to solicit public input on how to prioritize funding most effectively.
Conine noted the U.S. Department of Education in September approved Nevada’s $1.07 billion K-12 federal relief plan.
The state has until December 2024 to allocate ARP funds, and until Dec. 31, 2026, to spend those dollars.
No matter how the state decides to use the money and which projects get funding, Sisolak said ARP funds will allow Nevada to “do this work at a faster pace than ever before.”
Sisolak said it took Nevada about a decade to recover from the Great Recession, but the federal funding and the proposals received could mean the state “can recover stronger and faster than after the Great Recession.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time listening, and now we’ve got to take action,” he said.
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