The state’s American Rescue Plan Steering Committee is being cautious with federal funds it’s charged to allocate.
“The state Department of Commerce had requested $300 million for rural broadband,” said State Rep. Fran Cavenaugh (R-60th District, including extreme western Greene County), “but we approved only $150 million.”
According to published reports, the state has received a total of $5 billion, of which $1.57 billion is come through the steering committee.
Cavenaugh said the committee approved half the amount sought by the Department of Commerce for rural broadband because CARES Act monies already had provided funds for rural broadband.
“And there were people that had already applied for that $150 million that we just didn’t have the funds for,” she said. “So we went ahead and approved that.”
The CARES Act – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act – is a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law on March 27, 2020, in response to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Cavenaugh said, additional funds for rural broadband expansion should await additional information. “Instead of just throwing more money at it,” she said, “we need a strategic plan about how it’s going to be used, where the needs really are, who’s not got service.”
She said the committee’s action did not technically constitute “approval” but a recommendation to go before the Arkansas Legislative Council for approval or disapproval. The Legislative Council, on which Cavenaugh also sits, undertakes needed legislative functions when the legislature itself is not in session.
She said the committee will continue to meet on how to allocate the American Rescue Plan Act funds. “One of my goals is to see if we can use some of that money to alleviate the levy issues that we have over here,” she said. “About every five years we have major flooding, these historic floods.”
She said one of the intended purposes of the American Rescue Plan Act is to address infrastructure, waterways, sewers and similar needs. “So we’re hoping we’ll be able to use some of that money for [flood control],” she said.
The American Rescue Plan Steering Committee, created by and executive order of Gov. Asa Hutchinson on May 11, consists of Cavenaugh, two other state representatives, three state senators and the secretaries of eight of the 12 state departments. It is charged with studying and analyzing relief available under the American rescue Plan Act of 2021 to the state, its citizens and its businesses.
It is also to identify and prioritize the needs of the state, its citizens and its businesses; identify the best way to get and apply the funds and make recommendations to Gov. Hutchinson for the funds’ best uses.