HARTFORD – Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the state legislature’s Appropriations Committee say they will step up oversight of federal COVID aid funding, and plan to call for regular meetings with the Lamont administration to keep track of how the money is being spent.
“We’re just looking for transparency,” State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, told CT Examiner “we really want to be an active partner in all of the dollars that are coming into Connecticut.”
Osten, who serves as co-chair of the committee, said that lawmakers are seeking the same oversight of federal infrastructure money that the committee had last year, when Appropriations offered its own proposal for how to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“We would have [the administration] come before us, tell us what their plan was, and we would opine on whether we thought that plan was good,” Osten said. “We also want to go one step further than we did before. We want them to come back and tell us where they stand on a regular basis so that we know the projects are moving forward and that the projects are going out.”
On Thursday, legislators agreed to the concept, and to hold a public hearing on a bill to give the committee oversight of federal infrastructure money.
State Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, the committee’s ranking house Republican, said the bill affirmed the role of elected officials in overseeing the spending of federal dollars.
State Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, the ranking Senate Republican, said the “significant amount of federal money being moved around” was evidence that the committee hadn’t given itself enough oversight of federal COVID funding last year – something lawmakers would need to ensure with the infrastructure money.
“I’m hoping that there are reporting requirements in the bill, when it’s finally drafted, that require the administration not only to take action, but to show evidence they’ve taken action,” Miner said.
Osten told CT Examiner that spending negotiated last year with the Lamont administration still hadn’t been implemented – eight months after the legislature approved it as part of the state budget. In one case, Osten said, $155 million of ARPA money directed to the state’s unemployment trust fund still hadn’t been handed over.
Osten said that Connecticut had been slow to restore the unemployment trust fund after the recession in 2008, leaving business owners stuck paying interest on money the state borrowed to pay off unemployment benefits.
Members of the Appropriations Committee wanted to use federal COVID aid to avoid a repeat of that situation, Osten said, as the state faced a surge of COVID-related unemployment claims.
“It’s just about having an open conversation,” Osten said. “There may be a reason they don’t want to do it exactly as we had planned, but [the legislature] already all voted on that.”