Georgia gets $2.4 billion more in COVID-19 relief. How will it be spent?

It’s the second installment of federal relief approved by Dems in 2021

The state of Georgia has received the second installment of the $4.8 billion in federal funding it was promised as part of the COVID-19 relief package congressional Democrats approved in March 2021.

The question for Gov. Brian Kemp — who is already expecting a separate record state surplus this year — is what to do with the money.

Under state law, the governor gets the final decision over how to spend the federal COVID money, although Kemp last year set up committees of state lawmakers and agency officials to make recommendations on applications for the money.

Earlier this year, Kemp — who is up for reelection in November — announced grants for water and sewer improvements, for high-speed internet projects and money to help businesses and nonprofits better recover from the economic impact of the COVID pandemic.

The governor didn’t announce the grants to help the economy until a week before his Republican primary, more than a year after the federal funding was approved. The congressional package had originally been criticized by some GOP lawmakers in Georgia who said the state’s economy had long since recovered from the short pandemic shutdown in early 2020.

Kemp also used some of the money to provide bonuses for first responders, such as law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Kelly Farr, the governor’s budget director, said somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% of the original $2.4 billion the state received last year remains uncommitted. He said administration officials are still considering what to do with the next $2.4 billion the state just received.

The state has until 2024 to spend the money, so Kemp — if he is reelected — or Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams will have some big decisions to make over the next few years.

The governor has been in an unusual situation the past few years because the state has seen waves of federal and state tax revenue coming in. That wasn’t what he expected before the pandemic, when he was calling on state agencies to cut spending because of recession fears.

But increased federal spending directly on Georgia families pumped up state income and sales tax revenue in 2021, helping to produce a record $3.7 billion surplus.

Kemp signed legislation refunding about one-third of that surplus to Georgia taxpayers earlier this year.

The fiscal year that just ended last week is expected to produce another record surplus, and with an election looming, the governor is likely again to call for refunding a chunk of that money to Georgians.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery. R-Vidalia, like a lot of Republican lawmakers, would probably side with Kemp on that issue.

“My philosophy on government revenue is we need to always remember where revenues come from, and in Georgia, they come from taxpayers,” Tillery said.

Federal COVID-19 relief

The state of Georgia has already spent or committed most of the $2.4 billion it received last year in federal COVID-19 relief funds. The things it went for include:

  • Grants to communities for water and sewer improvements.
  • Projects to expand high-speed internet in underserved areas of the state
  • Aid to businesses and nonprofits affected by the economic slowdown in 2020
  • $1,000 bonuses for law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders
  • Money to help relieve court backlogs