Considerations on the Capitol | News from the city of Ponça

The Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding worked extremely hard last year to review the more than 1,400 public project proposals that were submitted, totaling more than $18 billion. Since this was ten times what Oklahoma received in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the committee really had to focus on our state’s greatest needs. All the proposals were for big projects and programs, but we just don’t have the funds to support them all.

In a special session, the Legislative Assembly approved projects worth more than $1 billion to improve and expand our state’s health and mental health systems, telemedicine, water supply, broadband, workforce development and other critical areas, especially in rural Oklahoma.

Part of the verification process asked applicants to explain in detail how their organization or program would use the requested funds. The committee met with state agencies, nonprofits, the business community, and other experts to dissect funding requests to decide which agencies and programs would give our state the best value.

When it comes to safeguarding funds, there are strict federal guidelines attached to funding regarding how it can be spent and any entity that does not follow them may have their funds clawed back. Guarantees have also been Bill Colman Oklahoma District 10 State Senator

included in the wording of the bill to ensure greater accountability of beneficiaries. The Pandemic Committee will also continue to meet with funding recipients to review resulting projects and programs and ensure that they meet their objectives and meet established milestones.

I am pleased to say that all but three of ARPA’s funding bills have gone into effect. Unfortunately, Governor Stitt vetoed three of them, including $6 million for Oklahoma’s Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEM) to build nine operations centers. located in the area, which was part of a larger allocation to improve our state’s emergency communications network. With the number of natural disasters in Oklahoma, it is imperative that all levels of government, first responders, and law enforcement can communicate effectively in the event of a tragedy. Nearly $8.2 million has not been advanced for necessary upgrades to the infrastructure of Oklahoma’s only statewide news network, the Oklahoma Education Television Authority (OETA ). The latest bill earmarked $10 million for the Arts Council to help nonprofit artists and arts organizations who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. This industry suffered significant financial losses, but many did not qualify for federal grants or pandemic unemployment benefits. The governor said that while he respects the work of these entities, he does not believe they provide clear, long-term strategic plans for the use of their funds.

These projects were overwhelmingly approved by the Joint Committee and both Houses of the Legislative Assembly. We are currently in the process of determining whether or not to reconvene in extraordinary session to address these funding areas or wait until next year’s ordinary session. Again, we have until December 2024 to allocate these funds and until December 2026 to distribute them. I’ll let you know as soon as I know more.

We also used the opportunity of the special session to address two other major needs of our state: additional drought relief for our farmers and ranchers and historic investment in labor and economic development. for infrastructure projects. We have allocated an additional $20 million on top of the $3 million approved at the regular session of the State Emergency Drought Commission. We also allocated $250 million from the Progressing Rural Economic Prosperity Fund (PREP) to support major upgrades to industrial parks, aviation facilities and state fairgrounds, as well as to support our international business efforts.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding these projects, please contact me at (405) 521-5581 or [email protected]

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