Federal COVID aid OK’d to pay for roads, natural disasters

Jan 10, 2023, 1:35 PM | Updated: 4:39 pm

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — State and local governments will soon gain new flexibility to spend billions of federal coronavirus relief dollars on things not directly related to the pandemic, including new roads and bridges and aid to people affected by wildfires, floods and other natural disasters.

The broadened spending authority for the previously approved pandemic aid was one of many of provisions wrapped into a recently enacted $1.7 trillion spending bill for the federal government’s 2023 budget year. It comes after city, county and state officials lobbied for more than a year for greater flexibility in how they can use a $350 billion pool of aid approved by President Joe Biden and the Democratic-led Congress in March 2021.

The American Rescue Plan act included federal aid for all levels of government — from states and territories down to tiny towns and villages — that was intended to help cover the costs of responding to COVID-19, shore up government finances and invest in longer-term projects to strengthen communities.

Though the program had considerable flexibility as originally implemented by the U.S. Treasury Department, some uses for the money remained limited. The newly expanded spending options are expected to take effect by late February, after the Treasury releases updated guidance.

“I think it supercharges the ARPA dollars to be as productive as possible” said Brittney Kohler, legislative director for transportation and infrastructure at the National League of Cities. She added: “We see this as a really valuable tool to make the most of every federal dollar.”

Under the revised spending rules, states and local governments could use their federal pandemic relief funds to provide the local matching amount necessary to draw down additional federal grants for road and transportation projects, including some funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by Biden in November 2021.

Governments will be allowed to use up to $10 million or 30% of their American Rescue Plan allotment, whichever is greater, for such transportation infrastructure.

There is no cap on how much of their allotment can go toward natural disaster relief, such as temporary housing, food and financial assistance.

Governments already can receive disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The process at FEMA can be time-consuming and a little burdensome,” said Susan Frederick, senior federal affairs counsel at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “This would be funding that would be readily available to the states in a more immediate fashion than having to go through all the hoops.”

About one-quarter of counties across the U.S. currently have federally declared disasters, said Mark Ritacco, chief government affairs office at the National Association of Counties.

A “natural disaster could have been worse due to the county’s focus on the COVID-19 pandemic,” if it diverted local funds that otherwise could have been spent to mitigate disasters, Ritacco said.

The greater flexibility will primarily benefit larger governments that received more than $10 million under the American Rescue Plan. That’s because a Treasury Department rule released one year ago allowed all governments to assume up to $10 million of pandemic-related revenue losses, qualifying an equal amount to be spent on general government services that could be construed to include roads or disaster relief.

States, territories and the District of Columbia had budgeted 71% of their federal pandemic relief allotments as of Sept. 30, according to an Associated Press analysis of data available through the Treasury Department.

A total of 1,850 local governments that received at least $10 million had complied with Treasury reporting requirements; they had budgeted 53% of their pandemic relief allotments as of Sept. 30.

Governments have until the end of 2024 to obligate the federal pandemic relief funds for projects and until the end of 2026 to spend it.

Officials are unlikely to do a major overhaul of their already planned spending as a result of the new law. But “the additional flexibility creates an opportunity for cities to move money around in their budgets” to meet federal spending deadlines, said Michael Wallace, legislative director for housing, community and economic development at the National League of Cities.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Lead water pipes pulled from underneath the street are seen in Newark, N.J., Oct. 21, 2021. (AP Pho...

Associated Press

Biden to require cities to replace harmful lead pipes within 10 years

The Biden administration has previously said it wants all of the nation's roughly 9 million lead pipes to be removed, and rapidly.

4 days ago

Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on, Oct. 28, 2...

Associated Press

Meta shuts down thousands of fake Facebook accounts that were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Meta said it removed 4789 Facebook accounts in China that targeted the United States before next year’s election.

4 days ago

A demonstrator in Tel Aviv holds a sign calling for a cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war on Nov. 21...

Associated Press

Hamas releases a third group of hostages as part of truce, and says it will seek to extend the deal

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the first American was released under a four-day truce.

9 days ago

Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, ...

Associated Press

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the deadly Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli Hospital.

12 days ago

Peggy Simpson holds a photograph of law enforcement carrying Lee Harvey Oswald's gun through a hall...

Associated Press

JFK assassination remembered 60 years later by surviving witnesses to history, including AP reporter

Peggy Simpson is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary.

12 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Federal COVID aid OK’d to pay for roads, natural disasters