As the state legislature reconvenes amid a continuing pandemic, Connecticut Republican legislators are raising questions over who should be responsible for the allocation of any additional Coronavirus relief funds that may come down from the federal government.
According to State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, some legislators are considering a bill that would place a certain amount of existing and future Coronavirus federal relief money under the control of the state legislature.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said that no matter where the funding ends up being spent, the critical point was that the legislature should be able to have a say in the decision. Up until now, CARES money allocation has been exclusively determined by the governor’s office.
The mechanisms for distributing CARES Act money have so far varied from state to state — some leave the decision in the hands of the executive branch, while others rely on the legislature to make the decision. In Kentucky, Massachusetts and Nebraska, the governor has had full control over the distribution of the funds. In Pennsylvania and Hawaii, on the other hand, the state legislature passed bills that dictated how federal funding would be allocated and distributed.
Other states have opted for executive power that is tempered with some kind of legislative oversight.
Illinois and Rhode Island gave the governor power to distribute funds, but under the gaze of a legislature-appointed oversight committee. In New York, the legislature authorized the comptroller to distribute the funds.
In a press conference this afternoon, Gov. Ned Lamont said that the executive branch would be working closely with the legislature to inform them about the use of these funds.
State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, however, said he didn’t think the governor had gone far enough in involving the legislature in discussions about prior CARES Act funding. He said he thought that more of the funding should have been distributed to nursing homes, whose residents, he said, had borne a disproportionate amount of COVID-related deaths. He also suggested putting aside CARES Act funding to increase broadband for Connecticut residents without internet access.
Cheeseman said that she would like to see future federal money go toward what she calls the “unseen victim” of the pandemic. She said that she would like to dedicate funds toward mental health treament, suicide prevention awareness, domestic violence shelters and addressing the opioid crisis.
State Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, said she would like to see money go toward education and small businesses who have been impacted.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she would like to see some of the federal funding used to shore up the now depleted unemployment fund.
Lamont said that the Coronavirus relief package that was passed through the federal Congress in December had very strict regulations on how the funds could be spent, leaving little room for interpretation. Connecticut expects to receive $4 million from this package, most of which, the governor said, would go toward additional PPP, unemployment and several other specific issues.
Some legislators are also worried about the impact of spreading the CARES Act money too thin. State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-East Hartford, said he was concerned that allocating money from the CARES Act to things like mental health could take away from funding that was needed to address the medical consequences of the virus.
Somers said that the legislature should look at the data and determine who was most affected by the pandemic in order to determine what funding should go to whom.
“I think the allocation for CARES money needs to be fully debated,” she said. “At least give us the opportunity to have the conversation.”