A Tennessee committee overseeing the state’s allocation of $2.3 billion in federal coronavirus aid met Wednesday to discuss the final steps before the funds expire at the end of the month.
According to information presented by Gov. Bill Lee’s office, the state has spent nearly all of the money, allocated by Congress with the CARES Act earlier this year, and has nearly $200 million left to spend.
After spending guidance was adjusted, the state could spend the money in the new year, but only if the coronavirus-related costs were incurred in 2020. State leaders have already identified potential spending — including on added state payroll costs and disbursements requested by local governments — that could qualify if the remaining money is not spent by the end of the year.
Asked by House Speaker Cameron Sexton whether more federal aid is anticipated, Lee’s policy director Tony Niknejad said the most likely outcome of ongoing negotiations in Washington is that the amount of future aid “won’t be zero.” But he cautioned against holding out hope for another large spending package.
“The object is to get the dollars out, and that’s what we need to be doing,” Tennessee Finance Commissioner Butch Eley said.
One Democratic member of the group, Rep. Harold Love of Nashville, questioned whether disbursements to eligible nonprofit organizations were proceeding quickly enough, as some have already spent money on rent relief and other services in hopes of being reimbursed by the state.
“We should in fact learn our lessons on this and be better on the next go-round,” Lee said.
Democratic Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis suggested the state prioritize rent relief with remaining dollars or in the future, as eviction moratoriums expire at the end of the year.
Lee also offered an update on planning for the imminent distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. He said he is meeting with Vice President Mike Pence Thursday in Memphis to discuss the plan; the first doses are expected to be delivered in the coming weeks.
While Eley said he expects federal money supporting vaccine distribution, the state has set aside money of its own — as much as $150 million — that could be used if no federal help is forthcoming.
“Within the next couple of weeks, we’ll have vaccines in arms and we’ll start turning the tide on this,” Lee said.