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Committee Allocating Idaho's $1.25 Billion In Aid Winds Down

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In April, Governor Brad Little authorized a 16-member coronavirus financial advisory committee to oversee $1.25 billion in federal pandemic aid provided to Idaho through the CARES Act.

The relief funds arrived with two major stipulations: They had to be used for pandemic-related expenses and the money was required to be spent — not just allocated — by December 30, 2020.

With that deadline now just weeks away, Alex Adams, Idaho’s Chief Budget Officer and chair of the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) said all but about $200 million has been spent.

“We've tried to do our due diligence on each idea that has come to us from both members of the committee and outside of the committee,” he said.

Adams said a lot of behind-the-scenes work went into proposals before they were introduced, which helped pave the way for almost universal agreement from the committee.

"Does this conform to the CARES Act, and then the U.S. Treasury guidance they've issued?” Adams said of the evaluation process. “The next hurdle is, 'does this meaningfully advance what we're trying to do with COVID-19 and get case counts under control? Is this going to effectively help us respond to the pandemic?' And if it gets over that hurdle, then, 'is this the best use of that dollar?'”

The vast majority of proposals voted on during CFAC meetings were unanimously approved. Meeting documentation shows Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin was the only member to vote ‘nay’ on anything, voting against seven proposals. Other members were occasionally absent from meetings; a few abstained from voting in certain instances.

The largest allocations went to aid small businesses, state agencies and municipalities, and Idaho’s unemployment trust fund.

Not every program used all its allocated money. Unused funds were pulled back from the Lost Wages program, the first responder salary plan — which cities and counties could only get if they agreed to distribute the savings as property tax reductions — and the program that provided grants to small businesses.

The latter, combined with the return-to-work bonus program, spent only about $110 million, Adams said. The CFAC had allocated $300 million for the small business program alone, but the second round of the federal Paycheck Protection Program drastically reduced the number of Idaho businesses which qualified for the state program.

“There was $190 million left in the small business bucket. We took the $190 million, packaged it with $10 million more and that was the $200 million that we ended up putting towards the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund,” Adams noted.

As a single entity, the state’s unemployment fund was the single largest beneficiary of CARES Act funding. If the remaining CARES Act funding ends up in the unemployment fund, it could mean lower taxes next September for businesses paying into unemployment.

If Congress extends the spending deadline, the committee would have more spending flexibility.

“I think priority one becomes upping the ongoing public health infrastructure costs that we know will continue into the new year,” said Adams.

That plan would include financial support of testing and contact tracing, medical infrastructure and veterans and long-term care centers.

Adams expects any potential extension could be part of a spending bill Congress needs to pass to keep the government funded and open beyond December 11.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo sits on the U.S. Senate Committee On The Budget and supports an extension of the deadline through September 2021.

Crapo's spokeswoman Melanie Lawhorn said it was not clear whether or not an extension for the CARES Act deadline would be part of the omnibus spending package currently under consideration by congress.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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