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Nevada Accepts Federal COVID-19 Funds, Aid Disbursement Begins

A meeting in the Grant Swayer Building in Las Vegas. Members present sit closely together. Some members are present via Zoom and are shown on a small monitor in front of the group.
Legislative Counsel Bureau
Members of the Interim Finance Committee met in Las Vegas on June 22, 2021, in order to accept and begin disbursing federal coronavirus relief funds.

$2.7 billion. That’s the amount lawmakers have accepted as the state’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds appropriated under the American Rescue Plan. The money is intended to provide support to struggling families and businesses. It’s also meant to help offset some of the costs associated with mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and lawmakers are wasting no time in dipping into those funds.

To talk about that and more, KUNR Morning Edition host Noah Glick checked in with senior reporter and political editor Paul Boger.

Noah Glick: What’s going on? I thought the legislative session was over. So how are lawmakers tapping into this money right now?

Paul Boger: Right now, we’re going to talk about the IFC, which is the Interim Finance Committee. This is the group of both the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Those lawmakers that sit on those committees, they get together in this interim period between legislative sessions and they hold these committee hearings to decide how to use state funds. This is kind of what happens when you have a legislature that meets every other year, right? You need a group that can sit here and look at these issues in the meantime, say, “All right, we’re getting $2.7 billion from the federal government. We weren’t able to use this money or take care of this money during the regular session.” So, this is what this committee does. This is exactly what they’re intended to do.

What they did this week was, essentially, they told the governor, Governor Sisolak, to accept the money from the federal government and to start dispersing some of it out. So he’s going to take the money into the Governor’s Finance Office. They’re usually the ones who direct how money is spent around the state in the way the lawmakers tell them to appropriate it. [One] of the things that they’ve already talked about is they’re trying to look at this eviction crisis. That’s probably looming here real soon. We know we just had that federal extension of a month.

That's probably going to be very, very helpful for some of these programs that are still trying to get money out to residents. One of the things that they did this week was looking at homeowner assistance in particular.

Glick: Okay, and are there other things that they’re looking at as well, then?

Boger: These programs are meant to help catch tenants up on rent, and they’ve been up and running for about a year now, but the vote on Tuesday gets the ball rolling on yet another new program, specifically set aside for homeowners, not renters, but homeowners this time. It’s $121 million. There was a program last year that had about $200 million in it. I believe that’s already been fully appropriated out, or most people have already gotten their money through that program. This new one is going to help about 6,800 households.

I do want to point out, though, this $2.7 billion. The state will not be able to use all of that money considering they actually will have to pay a large portion, a large chunk of money back to the federal government for all of the unemployment assistance the state has been giving over the last year. So, in other words, about a good $335 million of this 2.7 billion. That is reserved to go back to the federal government.

Glick: Well, hold on now, now I want to back up a second. You've previously reported, though, that the state would get $4.5 billion from the federal government. So what happened to the rest of it?

Boger: So the whole amount of money that the state gets is about $4.5 billion. And I say whole amount because that is also what schools will get. That’s what local governments and counties will get. So a lot of this money is going to be spread out across the state with the various federal and state and local governments. That’s where a good portion of this is. The $2.7 billion is the amount that the state has control over. So that’s the two numbers. I definitely want [us to understand] they’re different because a lot of that other money is going to be used in the city of Reno and the city of Sparks. Washoe County is going to get an allotment. The school district’s going to get a very, very large chunk of that money.

Glick: Sure. Yeah. And I'm glad you brought up schools. And we have about a minute left here, but I want to switch gears a little and talk about school funding, more specifically with the Washoe County School District. This week, the school board approved a $1 billion budget for the next fiscal year. At times, it looked like the district was going to face a pretty significant deficit. So I mean, what happened there?

Boger: I feel like last year was all about, “We’re gonna have a deficit. We’re gonna have a deficit. We’re gonna have a deficit.” And then this year, it’s as if everything’s fine, at least on the money front. On the money front, things are looking okay, and that’s a lot because of that federal offset from the government. And yeah, that billion-dollar budget, that is the largest budget in this county, right? That is one of the largest budgets, I think, in Northern Nevada, period. The Washoe County School District. So, they balanced that budget, and a lot of it was using about, I think, $70 million from the federal government, which will go to the school district to help offset some of the costs associated with buying PPE and cleaning. You also have that large summer school program that’s going on right now. School districts are going to be having to catch these kids up for years, probably. So that’s what they’re going to be spending a lot of this federal money on.

Paul Boger is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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