Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding holds organizational meeting

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
OKLAHOMA CITY – The joint legislative committee formed to support the state planning of pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) met Wednesday (July 21)  for its first organizational meeting.

The joint committee discussed the process and structure by which to evaluate proposals for the use of $1.9 billion in relief funds available to the State of Oklahoma. The panel’s work will inform the allocations eventually assigned by the state’s chief executive.  

Under federal law, ARPA funds for state governments are to be used only to respond to the public health emergency and negative economic effects caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Such uses can include payments to state agencies, nonprofits, industry, households, and investments in public infrastructure.

The committee will receive and evaluate proposals through a robust subcommittee vetting process and engagement with stakeholders, including members of the executive branch, state agencies, community organizations, and public submissions. 

Proposal submissions will be open to the public for several months and available online beginning Aug. 1.

The bipartisan joint committee established subcommittees in the following focus areas:

    •  Economic Development and Workforce, Co-Chairs: Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, and Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon

    •  Health and Human Services, Co-Chairs: Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Depew

    •  Government Transformation and Collaboration, Co-Chairs: Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry, and Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa

    •  Transportation, Infrastructure, and Rural Development, Co-Chairs: Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, and Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds

“Oklahoma has the opportunity to make a strategic investment in our state ensuring a strong recovery from the pandemic,” said House Appropriations & Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, co-chair of the joint committee. 
“We look forward to working collaboratively with the Governor, Legislature, state agencies, tribal nations and community members to use these one-time federal funds for projects that will positively impact the State of Oklahoma.”

The joint committee also heard from Mike Fina, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Municipal League, on the ARPA monies cities and counties will receive, and House Fiscal Director Mark Tygret regarding the funds that pass through directly to state agencies.

“It is imperative that this committee work collaboratively with our cities, counties, and state agencies to ensure these federal funds are leveraged to their full potential,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, co-chair of the joint committee. “This is a chance to maximize these one-time funds to make investments that will benefit generations of Oklahomans.”

The committee will forward its recommendations to a group of six legislators and five executive branch officials who will formally score and send high-scoring priorities to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who will make the final allocation of funds.

“While other states will be forced to use this money to fill massive budget deficits, Oklahoma can build on the momentum created by reopening our economy last June and propel our state forward,” Stitt said. 
“I appreciate the joint committee’s commitment to using these funds to make one-time strategic investments that will benefit future generations while improving services today, and I look forward to continuing our partnership with the legislators every step of the way.”