The 14-story docked state courthouse is one of Kansas’s largest and oldest state offices. It’s also mostly empty despite its great location opposite the Houses of Parliament.
So Kansas officials are using a $60 million federal pandemic relief fund to finance its demolition and replace it with a slim three-story building designed to host meetings and events. I am planning to
State officials classified the project as a “public health service” in a report to the U.S. Treasury Department presenting the funding plan. That may be a stretch, but it’s probably fine under America’s Rescue Plans Act, a comprehensive law signed into law by President Joe Biden last year that will provide $350 billion to state and local governments. provide a wide range of flexibility in assisting
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The aid was pushed by Democrats in Congress as an unprecedented injection to help the cash-strapped government respond to the virus, rebuild its economy and strengthen its finances. But that came at a time when state tax revenues were already recovering, with many states running record surpluses and making enviable decisions about what to do with all their money.
Relatively little federal aid goes to traditional public health purposes, according to an Associated Press review of reports from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. has increased significantly. The state is pouring money into water, sewer, and high-speed internet projects as specifically envisioned by law. But AP found that they spend billions on roads, bridges, sidewalks, airports, railroads, university campuses and government buildings. All of which is justified under the federal government’s generous flexibility.
Kansas House Appropriations Committee Chairman Troy Waymaster said, referring to the $1.6 billion the state received, “To be honest, we didn’t need it.
But the docking building will need to be demolished, and new spaces for events and meetings could allow for better social distancing during a resurgence of COVID-19 or a future pandemic, he said. rice field.
“If the building itself can be used during the pandemic, using ARPA funds for renovation or infrastructure projects is somewhat justified,” said Waymaster, a Republican.
Conservation groups in Kansas allege that the administration of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly failed to follow proper procedures to demolish a 65-year-old structure that was added to the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year. I have asked the court to block the demolition. .
Paul Post, a former Topeka attorney and member of the Plains Modern preservationist group, said, “The wrong move is being made here to demolish a perfectly appropriate building.
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Recently, all states were required to submit an annual report to the Treasury Department detailing their progress under America’s bailout plan. Documents show the state plans to spend about three-quarters of its funds. It has risen significantly from its slow initial pace.
The Treasury Department has asked states to classify projects into seven general categories and 83 subcategories. By the end of 2026, if we determine that our spending has exceeded the broad guidelines of the law, we can get your money back.
Governments report spending more than $22 billion on the Treasury Department’s infrastructure categories of water, sewer and broadband. But the AP identified infrastructure projects totaling about $36 billion — almost a quarter of all planned spending — when public works projects reported in the roads, bridges, buildings and other categories are included. .
In contrast, the government reported less than $12 billion in planned spending in the Treasury’s public health category. This was also widely interpreted as including “community violence interventions,” substance use services, and COVID-19 assistance to small businesses.
Some state officials may have decided not to use the relief funds for public health because there were other federal funding streams for vaccines, testing, and health initiatives. Another section of the Rescue Plan provided nearly $8 billion to state and local health departments. However, the large influx of funds may also have raised concerns about sustainability.
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Public health has historically been underfunded, but “many health officials have struggled to get policymakers and bosses to commit to hiring people for the long term because it’s one-time money.” says Dr. George Benjamin. American Public Health Association.
Some states have reported no spending on public health with any American Rescue Plan funds. Among them was Florida, her fourth-largest allotment from the federal government. Florida will instead spend $1.8 billion on highways, $1.9 billion on water projects, and more than $2.5 billion to build and maintain public buildings, including the Capitol, university facilities and K-12 schools, according to an AP analysis. spent
The state’s water initiative includes up to $700 million in grant programs to combat climate change-related flooding. The City of Miami has been awarded nearly $50 million for six projects, including one that nearly doubles the height of seawalls in areas devastated by storm surges from 2017’s Hurricane Irma.
The goal of the project is to “protect homes and businesses from future storm surges and sea level rise,” said Sonia Brubaker, Miami’s Chief Recovery Officer.
Louisiana also does not list any planned spending in the Treasury Department’s public health category. • Plans to spend $27 million to improve the dome stadium where the Saints play soccer.
Democratic Gov. John Bell Edwards said the stadium subsidy was important “to keep the venue competitive.”
Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also defended a $46 million grant to upgrade grandstands, aisles, bathrooms and infrastructure at racetracks across the state. “Motorsports is part of North Carolina,” he said earlier this year.
Alabama prisoners have sued the Treasury Department in an attempt to stop the state from spending $400 million to build prisons. The state says it’s fine under the Treasury Department’s flexible rules, but the lawsuit alleges it’s a “grossly illegal misuse” of pandemic relief funds.
A coalition of more than 20 construction, business and local government bodies is putting pressure on Congress to give transportation projects more room to use pandemic aid.
“Having good infrastructure that allows us all to live and thrive” ultimately “leads to public health,” said Stan Brown, former president of the American Public Works Association. Stated.
Missouri, which has yet to classify most of its projects, is also investing heavily in infrastructure, directing hundreds of millions of dollars toward building community colleges and public universities. His NextGen Precision Health initiative at the University of Missouri will get nearly $105 million for improvements, including finishing his fourth floor of a new building named after Senator Roy Brandt’s departure.
“A lot of this was already set to happen,” said university spokesman Christian Basi, although no specific timeline was set. “Then COVID hit and ARPA funding became available. It just happened to be a strange timing, but it turned out to be very, very helpful for us.”
Like Missouri, Utah has earmarked $90 million for new mental health research facilities to replace lost revenue for government services. Construction on the building is set to begin next year and will include research into the impact of suicide and social isolation on children’s mental health.
Mark Rapaport, CEO of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Institute for Mental Health, said the planned work aligns well with the intent of the federal aid.
“Much of what we do is directly related to tackling problems exacerbated by the pandemic itself.