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Idaho will receive $1.25B in federal coronavirus funding. But for now, all it can do is wait


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Gov. Brad Little announces the stay-home order on March 25. | File photo

When Idaho Gov. Brad Little learned the state will receive about $1.25 billion in federal funds to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, he quickly issued an executive order to create a committee to oversee how the state spends that federal money.

Idaho should receive the money in about 10 days.

The committee Little created April 7 already has met twice via telephone conference call. But until it gets more details from the federal government on how the money can be used, all it can do is wait.

Idaho Division of Financial Management administrator and committee chairman Alex Adams said he expects the federal guidelines to be released any day now.

“This is going to be a bit of a dance that we learn as we go.”

“We anticipate the funds will arrive in Idaho on or around April 24, so the guidance should be available prior to then,” Adams said.

So far, the only guidance the state has received is the federal money can be used only for non-budgeted government direct expenses incurred due to the coronavirus public health emergency between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020, Adams explained.

“There are a lot of question marks and unknowns,” Adams told the committee on Monday.

Garden City Mayor and committee member John Evans concurred.

“This is going to be a bit of a dance that we learn as we go,” he said.

Idaho wants to be transparent

Gov. Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee will make recommendations to ensure the federal funds are appropriately prioritized and efficiently distributed across state, local and tribal governments. It also will play an oversight role to ensure the federal funds are used appropriately.

“This federal funding – the taxpayers’ money – must be prudently managed on behalf of all taxpayers,” Little said in an April 7 news release announcing the oversight committee.

“I can assure Idahoans that the federal funds will not be used to create new government programs in Idaho, and we will uphold our Constitutional mandate to provide a long-term, structurally balanced budget for the people of Idaho,” Little said.

As part of the oversight, Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf announced his office will report the federal money’s use on its Transparent.Idaho.Gov website, “giving all Idahoans the opportunity to see how the federal funds are used.”

“Transparency in government spending is one of my highest priorities, and I am proud that Idaho will lead the nation in shining light on how these public funds will be used to help us fight coronavirus in the state,” Woolf said.

First step for the coronavirus committee

The 14-member committee held its second conference call on Monday. Even though they do not yet know the guidelines on how the money can be used, the committee members decided they could move forward with creating a formula for how the money will be allocated to state and local governments.

The committee agreed to a general allocation formula: 55% ($688 million) will go to the state; 30% ($375 million) will go to county/city/tribal governments and 15% ($188 million) will be held in reserve for extraordinary expenses.

Counties likely will get the biggest share of the local government money because they are responsible for jails, coroners, medical transport and courts, which will incur more coronavirus-related expenses than cities.

Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee members are:

  • Alex Adams, Administrator, Division of Financial Management (Chairman)
  • Sen. Steve Bair, Co-chairman, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee
  • Rep. Rick Youngblood, Co-chairman, Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee
  • Josh Whitworth, Chief of Staff, Office of the State Controller
  • Jani Revier, Director, Idaho Department of Labor
  • Tom Kealey, Director, Idaho Department of Commerce
  • Shawn Keough, State Board of Education member
  • Lisa Hettinger, Deputy Director, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
  • Garden City Mayor John Evans, city government representative
  • Seth Grigg, Executive Director, Idaho Association of Counties, county government representative
  • Chantel Greene, Nez Perce Tribe, tribal government representative
  • Dennis Johnson, large business representative
  • Matt Newton, small/midsize business representative
  • Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, Intergovernmental Affairs Director, Office of the Governor

This article first appeared in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.