Continued COVID-19 testing, expanded access to broadband internet service, “premium pay” for front line state employees and $20 million in nursing home infrastructure improvements are just a handful of the initiatives Gov. Ned Lamont wants to pay for using Connecticut’s share of federal pandemic relief funds.
The wide-ranging package, forwarded Monday to the top two leaders of the General Assembly, represents the Democratic governor’s plan for how the state emerges from the pandemic while addressing some long-standing issues, said Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw.
“Governor Lamont’s vision for this significant infusion of resources in the state of Connecticut focuses on making a transformative, equitable and healthy recovery for our state,” she said. That vision, she added, includes defeating COVID-19, “investing in our future,” making the state more affordable, modernizing state government and kickstarting “economic growth that works for all” — one of numerous references to equity in the plan.
Lamont’s administration first released highlights of the plan last week.
State lawmakers, who voted unanimously last month for a bill requiring Lamont to provide his recommendations to the General Assembly and allow legislators to approve or modify the plan, will now look through the proposal. At the same time, they’ll be trying to reach a new two-year budget agreement that Lamont will sign.
“It’s a great start, but there’s a reason we passed that bill,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, “which is to make sure the legislature has a role going forward.”
Connecticut is receiving about $2.6 billion from the $1.9 trillion federal COVID relief bill signed last month, known as the American Rescue Plan, through 2024.
While the state has not received official guidance from the U.S Department of Treasury on how the money can be spent, McCaw said the administration understands it can be used to address state expenses related to responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency and the negative consequences of the pandemic on everything from small businesses to government services. The state, she said, is also allowed to spend the money on water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Lamont has already proposed spending $1.7 billion of the funds to make up for lost state revenue and balance the next two-year state budget.
Ritter noted that figure could change later this week, when state officials receive updated revenue estimates.
Meanwhile, the state is also receiving $145 million in capital project funding and $1.6 billion that will go to cities and towns.
AARP of Connecticut was one of various groups that made spending suggestions to the Lamont administration. Nora Duncan, the organization’s Connecticut director, said she is pleased to see the plan includes funding to provide additional respite services for family caregivers and another round of incentive pay for nursing home staff.
“We would have liked to see more attention paid to home and community based services, but the stage is now well set for those conversations moving forward,” she said in a statement.
States around the county are in different stages of determining how to spend these massive infusions of federal money.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers have decided to first work on the regular state budget, while the governor of Louisiana has discussed priorities to help the tourism industry, refill the state’s unemployment trust fund and other one-time items, but no specific plan has been decided.
Ohio state legislators are close to finalizing $2 billion in federal aid to schools, businesses and renters.
Lamont’s plan includes some surprises, such as $10 million over two years to fund a “time-limited, transformative contraceptive access initiative.”
There’s also one-time funding to addresses some long-standing issues, including the need for 24-hour mobile psychiatric crisis units in the state.