Pandemic relief battle resumes with GOP bill that ties school mental health funding to new reporting requirement

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As Republican lawmakers try again to control how the Democratic governor of Wisconsin spends the state’s share of federal pandemic relief funds, the assembly will vote on a bill on Tuesday requiring reports on the how these funds are spent.

The same invoice, AB-564, also orders Governor Tony Evers to donate $ 100 million in federal funds to the state’s Department of Education for mental health programs in schools.

The bill was passed by the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee on September 22 in a party line vote. Evers vetoed several similar pieces of legislation this would cede decisions about spending the relief money in the event of a pandemic.

The new legislation would require the administration to submit to the Republican-controlled Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee copies of every report, including status updates, that the executive branch submits to the federal government on how it spends federal coronavirus relief funds. The bill would also require the administration to publish copies of these reports on the Internet for easy access by the public.

The funds in question arrived in Wisconsin primarily through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in 2021.

Along with the new reporting requirements, the legislation allocates $ 100 million from the state’s ARPA allocation to the state’s Department of Public Education (DPI) for grants to public, chartered, and private schools for students. mental health programs. It also requires reports to the finance committee on pandemic relief spending from DPI and schools.

“The public should know how billions of dollars are spent,” said state representative John Plumer (R-Lodi), author of the bill, declared during a public hearing of the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee on September 21.

In a joint statement after the hearing, the four Democrats on the committee decried the legislation, noting that ARPA funds for school mental health would be a one-time injection when a continuous source was needed. They criticized the Republican majority in the Legislature for failing to pass Evers’ original education budget and for failing to use $ 550 million that remains unused in the state’s general purpose revenue funds. due to the governor’s partial veto on the budget. The day after the hearing, the committee voted 9-4 to move the bill forward.

Evers “has repeatedly proposed increased investments in support for student mental health, many of which have been cut by Republicans in the legislature,” Gov. spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said on Monday. She called on GOP lawmakers to “use readily available state resources to make the meaningful investments our children and schools deserve.”

Republicans made several more attempts to dictate how the state’s $ 2.5 billion in federal ARPA funds would be spent after Evers vetoed a GOP bill to channel these funds through the Joint Finance Committee.

The governor’s office and Democratic lawmakers have highlighted state laws that give the governor and the executive unilateral control over most of the federal funds the state receives. They also argued that several Republican proposals could face federal challenges for not meeting the requirements set out in the ARPA and in regulations implementing the Pandemic Relief Act.

Evers vetoed a bill that would have used ARPA money to finance a loan for a proposed cooperative lumber industry acquisition of a Wisconsin Rapids shutter paper mill. Republican lawmakers had rejected a Democratic amendment to the legislation to use state funds instead of ARPA.

Five more invoices passed the state assembly on June 22 on party line or quasi-party line votes requiring ARPA funds for various projects. None were scheduled in the Senate on Monday.

Additional bills directing ARPA spending are still awaiting public hearings. AB-417 would spend $ 4.6 million on a regional forensic center based in Marathon County. AB-429 / SB-480 would allocate $ 9.75 million to the town of Kenosha for an innovation center in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. AB-468 would provide $ 100,000 for a pedestrian bridge in the community of Lodi.


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