Economic network

Scholars Strategy Network: Federal COVID Funding Will Reach Us All

Maine is on the cusp of $ 15 billion. That’s a lot of money!

As of August 17, this is the amount that the Maine Bureau of the Budget reports has been made available to Maine through federal COVID assistance legislation. Five separate federal laws, covering the period 2020-2021, have authorized these distributions. Among them: the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the American Rescue Plan.

The funds pave the way for a stronger and more equitable recovery and are expected to reduce financial distress, hunger, housing insecurity and health care costs for many: inside; $ 9.25 billion is not grants, which are relief payments made directly to private entities, paycheck protection loans to businesses, and loans that do not flow through the state government.

To many, it may seem like an inordinate amount of money flowing down from the federal government to the states. But in times of recession, national governments of all political stripes have always sought short-term spending increases to combat widespread economic crises. Above all, these stimulus efforts have worked, both in the United States and around the world.

During this current national crisis, these federal funds are essential to keep states afloat. In a small, rural state like Maine, which typically enters recessions early and recovers late, stimulus spending is particularly important. Only a handful of residents could have endured this pandemic without them.

The billion dollar push, however, requires quick and tight spending deadlines. The Mills administration’s roadmap for these discretionary funds was Jobs and Maine’s Stimulus Package who organized his proposals into three categories for three ends: 1) stimulate Maine’s economic recovery from the pandemic, 2) invest in long-term economic growth, and 3) build and revitalize critical infrastructure.

The Legislature used its budget process to allocate discretionary amounts. The qualified majority agreement of the Legislative Assembly and the Governor, in addition to input from the public and discussions with leaders of business, economy, education, non-profit organizations and community, paved the way for LD 1733: Law providing for allocations for the distribution of state budget recovery funds.

This law sets out allocations in a wide range of sectors, including: waterfront infrastructure; promotion of the direct care workforce; investments in agriculture, food and forest products industries; emergency warning systems; shelters for homeless youth; free water test for eligible residents; affordable housing and labor transportation projects; weatherization projects; economic stimulus grants for small businesses; and increased child care. This spending plan affects us all.

The need to reverse allocations and spending at lightning speed, however, leads us to two areas of concern. A first is that allocations can replicate the siled approach to problems so frequently used in the past. Out of excess of optimism, could we, for example, see state and / or local collaborations that could broaden and strengthen the use of these funds and better ensure the sustainability of the projects that arise? Could we witness the evolution of new organizations or collectives that bring new ideas for collaborative work between organizations and companies that have not traditionally worked side by side? and if not, why not?

Maine has a history of ingenuity in developing projects that could model a modified approach. A recent example is the US $ 30 million housing and urban development grant that Lewiston received for affordable housing. The project will redesign social housing in a neighborhood, collaborate with private investment partners and create complementary family-centered programs such as health care and workforce development by combining government efforts, businesses and non-profit organizations. usual approaches from the past. Now is the perfect time to use that creativity again.

A second concern is the public’s right to know that funds are being spent both in a timely and equitable manner and that the results are being widely disseminated. This massive injection of money requires accountability, transparency and oversight. Residents of Maine deserve to know how these funds actually “paved the way for a stronger and fairer recovery.”

While the governor and his cabinet have taken the lead in allocations, and departments, towns and villages will take the lead in distribution, the legislature will receive progress and results reports. But few of us have time to hover in the Appropriations Committee room while we wait for these reports.

There is no doubt in our minds that this injection of money from federal COVID relief funds is necessary for Maine and its residents to regain a sense of stability and security. But how, we ask, will we know who the funds were allocated to, how they were spent, and how Maine and its people benefited from it? Right now, there are no user-friendly sites that aggregate and track the many fund streams. There should be.

Until then, it may be a good time to get to know your legislators and ask them the question.

Luisa S. Deprez is emeritus professor of sociology and Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. Lisa Miller is a former legislator and member of the health and social services and credit and financial affairs committees.

They are members of the Maine section of the National Strategic scholarship network, which brings together academics from across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Member columns appear in the monthly KJ.

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