Sep 16, 2022 - Politics

Projects scrutinized as Arkansas' ARPA funds dwindle

Illustration of hands reaching for a giant dollar
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Water projects got a nod, while hospitals got a timeout from the Arkansas Legislative Council's (ALC) expenditure review committee this week.

State of play: Approval by the ALC is the next step in funding projects that received initial recommendations from the governor-appointed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Steering Committee.

Flashback: In all, the committee recommended spending over $423 million from the state's total of $1.57 billion in federal funds last month.

  • The group suggested a combined $280 million for water projects requested by the state Department of Agriculture in mid-August.
  • Then in late August, the steering committee recommended a combined $114 million for projects — including money to keep several Arkansas hospitals from closing their doors.

What happened: The ALC committee on Tuesday approved $5 million to the Department of Human Services to support training for behavioral health, $25,000 to the Department of Finance and Administration for COVID-19 testing reimbursement, $280 million to the Department of Agriculture for water projects and $4.6 million to Black River Technical College to construct short-term training and housing facilities.

Yes, but: The ALC did not take action on several requests collectively seeking about $105 million of ARPA money, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

  • The denials included the request for $60 million to help keep hospitals from closing, $10 million to benefit rural hospitals through the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership and several requests by colleges and from Women and Children First for a combined $35 million for health care-related building projects.

Details: The ALC review committee was concerned the requests were "haphazard," or projects lacked clearly defined objectives, the Arkansas Advocate reported.

  • Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he wants each hospital seeking ARPA money to explain its need and how the money will help the hospital.

The other side: The Department of Human Services' original request to the steering committee stated that to be eligible for emergency funds, DHS would require a hospital to show it's in "immediate jeopardy" of closing and would have to provide a detailed plan for financial sustainability within 90 days.

Context: The ARPA Steering Committee was appointed in May 2021 to make recommendations on the distribution of the federal federal funds. Money must be spent on one of eight criteria, including water and sewer infrastructure, and addressing health care needs exacerbated by the pandemic.

Of note: Cindy Gillespie, secretary of the Department of Human Services, announced her resignation on Thursday. She's leaving to spend more time with family.

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