INDIANAPOLIS – With just a few months left to spend the money, Indiana officials are still sitting on $1.3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
Democrats pushed back at the State Budget Committee Tuesday – saying Hoosiers are hurting now and the money could be used to help with food insecurity, rent, utility assistance and other programs.
"Right now, so many Hoosiers are suffering," said Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis. "It’s now the middle of September. We have the opportunity to help Hoosiers now."
She urged Gov. Eric Holcomb’s administration to come up with a plan sooner rather than later.
Indiana received billions in federal aid with some of it going directly to specific programs, such as school technology and nutrition as well as public health needs. A separate pot of $2.4 billion in relief funds could be used for pandemic-related expenses with the caveat it has to be spent by January 1 and it can’t replace lost tax revenue.
But Holcomb has been waiting for months for further guidance from the federal government or for Congress to give more flexibility on how it can be spent.
In the meantime, even the programs Holcomb has announced have put little money into the hands of Hoosiers.
For instance, $40 million was set aside for rental assistance but only $19 million has been paid or approved so far with more than 10,000 applications still pending.
A $30 million Small Business Restart Program has spent only $960,000 through grants to 232 businesses.
And while $300 million was set aside for local government help only $17 million in reimbursements have been approved.
"When are we going to get this money out the door?" asked Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.
Cris Johnston, head of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, addressed several of the items. The biggest is confusion about whether police, fire and other payroll expenses can be covered for local and state governments. He said recent guidance from the U.S. Treasury differed from that of a federal Inspector General.
He said if a favorable interpretation is reached that would account for about $300 million.
Johnston conceded the small business program has "not moved very quickly." He said it was designed to be supplemental to the federal paycheck protection loan program. He said he has asked the Indiana Economic Development Corporation to re-examine the guidelines to "liberalize" the program to help small businesses.