$358 million in federal coronavirus aid not yet spent in R.I.
PROVIDENCE — After months of quietly giving Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo free rein over the potential spending of more than $1.25 billion in federal relief money, a legislative task force is now asking more and more questions about how the money was spent.
Among them: how much is unspent and uncommitted, at this time, to potentially help the state dig its way out of an unprecedented $800-million budget hole? How much of Raimondo’s spending plans are discretionary, and how much leeway do the lawmakers have to redirect those dollars, sooner rather than later, to struggling businesses?
Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley estimated Tuesday that there could be as much as $358 million not yet built into any specific spending plan, depending on a host of variables.
The financial picture so far: only $43.7 million of the federal relief dollars have actually been spent. Another $142.7 million has been committed, for a total of $186.4 million through May 27.
That includes: $27.6 million spent to build the “overflow” hospitals in the Rhode Island Convention Center and two other locations in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases of a magnitude seen in hotspots such as New York and Boston — which Rhode Island did not see.
“How much do we think we need is $650 million to $850 million,’’ Smiley told the lawmakers on the Joint COVID-19 Emergency Spending Task Force.
Tuesday night’s agenda was billed as a “detailed review” of how much the state has spent building the surge hospitals and providing nursing homes with desperately needed masks, gloves and other personal protective gear.
Rep. John “Jack” Lyle, shared his deeply personal concerns about the availability, even now, of adequate PPE at the state’s nursing homes, including the one where his mother-in-law died in late May and the one where his mother is exposed among newly reported cases.
Lyle, R-Lincoln, read aloud a sentence in a “COVID-19 staff screening tool for nursing homes” that suggested, to him, that nursing home staffers who have tested positive have been allowed to work. He called these homes “killing fields.”
The sentence: “’Asymptomatic staff members may continue to work while wearing a mask if their absence would cause a staffing hardship.’ That’s frightening,’’ he said.
He also relayed what a staff member told his wife when her mother died, that “that facility had only had adequate [PPE] a couple of weeks previous. That is inexcusable.”
Members of the Raimondo team assured him the state now has abundant supplies of PPE, and response teams that can help the nursing homes line up what they need.”
The lawmakers’ questions took them to the hundreds of millions more in anticipated spending for all the ancillary programs the Raimondo administration has beefed up or created for testing, rental assistance, summer education programs and financial relief to hospitals and nursing homes.
For example, the breakdown reflected the Raimondo administration’s plans to funnel between $130 million and $150 million into the state’s financially struggling hospitals between now and Dec. 30.
The commitment followed the release Monday of an analysis commissioned by the Hospital Association of Rhode Island of the “profound financial disruption to the state’s hospitals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The report by Health Management Associates projects losses of $440 million through the end of the year. Operating losses based on actual data for March and April alone were $145 million, the hospital association reported.
The major contributors were identified as “the canceling of non-emergent services in anticipation of high demand by COVID-19 patients, unanticipated investments in supplies and equipment, testing, and infrastructure to treat COVID-19 cases, and individuals forgoing medical care. ”
The Raimondo team explained: there will be a “proportional distribution of [available federal relief dollars] based on hospitals’ lost revenue’ . conditional on acknowledgment of program goals and commitment to take action and progress. ”
The lawmakers said they want a fuller explanation of how much flexibility the state actually has here, and how progress would be measured.
Other big-ticket items included $6.5 million for rental subsidies to households “at or below 50% of area median income” at risk of losing their homes.
The list also included $19.6 million for what was described broadly as “high quality summer education programs,’’ including a summer jobs program for youth ages 16 to 24, and $7.5 million for ”competitive grants’’ to municipalities and nonprofits for in-person summer camp programs.That’s far less than the $800 million estimated state deficit.
Federal Stimulus Package: How Much RI Residents Are Getting
Most Rhode Island residents can expect a direct payment, while unemployment is beefed up and extended. Here’s what it could mean for you.
By Rachel Nunes , Patch Staff
Mar 26, 2020 10:05 a m ET | Updated Mar 26, 2020 1:05 p m ET
Shortly before Wednesday night became Thursday morning, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a historic $2 trillion aid package behind trumpets of bipartisanship. You can read the 880-page bill here.
The bill now goes to the House, which is expected to vote Friday, before heading to President Trump’s desk. Trump has promised to immediately sign it.
Lawmakers are desperate to get cash in the hands of Americans and prop up devastated businesses to offset the economic chokehold the coronavirus crisis has the country in.
Here’s how the package might affect you:
How much money are Americans getting?
Most workers who earned up to $75,000 will get $1,200, plus $500 per child, and joint filers who made up to $150,000 will get $2,400, plus $500 per child. Payments will be gradually less for workers who made more than $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) and stop altogether at $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers.) The information will be taken from your 2019 or, if unavailable, 2018 tax returns. You can find out how much you may be getting here.
When can Americans expect to see the money?
The White House has made it clear it wants the money to go out as soon as possible. Officials are eyeing April 6, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Wednesday many people would have their money within three weeks of Trump signing the bill into law. April 6 is less than two weeks away.
Newport, RI | News | 6d
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