Kemp names panels to recommend how to use $4.8B in COVID-19 relief

Almost four months after President Joe Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, Georgia is getting started on figuring out how to spend its share.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday announced three bipartisan committees made up of lawmakers and agency leaders to consider applications to spend the $4.8 billion the state is getting as part of the relief package.

The state has already received half the money. It will get the second half next year.

State agencies, local governments, industries and nonprofits will be eligible to apply between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31 at Ultimately, under state law, Kemp will make the final decision on whether to approve committee recommendations, and grants are targeted to be announced in mid-October.

The committees will focus on broadband expansion, water and sewer infrastructure, and ways to mitigate the economic fallout from the pandemic.

“These committees will ensure federal coronavirus relief dollars are allocated strategically across our state and address one-time fund needs in three key areas,” Kemp said.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, will serve on all three committees. Of the 20 lawmakers Kemp appointed to committees, only two are from the five core metro Atlanta counties, and not one is from Atlanta itself.

The relief package Biden signed in March is sending billions to Georgia cities and school districts as well.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, state and local governments expected a deep recession after many businesses shut down and millions of people were thrown out of work. State leaders backed national calls for a $500 billion federal package to make up for expected lost tax revenue.

State tax revenue helps pay for k-12 schools, universities, public health care, roads and a host of other things.

While a major economic downturn was expected, economies in some states, including Georgia, bounced back relatively quickly. And now Georgia is expecting a sizable tax surplus when fiscal 2021 ends Wednesday.

Some states plan to use relief money to fill holes left by declining local tax collections.

Others are talking up proposals to repair aging water, sewer and transportation systems, to improve mental health programs and to create the infrastructure needed to offer high-speed internet to the millions of Americans who don’t have it.

The need for expanding high-speed internet access — particularly in rural Georgia — has been a hot topic at the General Assembly for years, but lawmakers could never come up with a way to pay for it without raising taxes and fees.

That talk only accelerated when schools closed down at the start of the pandemic and distance learning took the place of in-person instruction.

The money coming to Georgia can be used broadly for COVID-19 response, including making direct payments to Georgians, providing aid to small businesses and giving extra pay for “essential workers,” as well as funding infrastructure projects.

Last year federal CARES Act funding paid for Georgia’s response to the pandemic. Kemp also used $1.5 billion in federal pandemic relief money to shore up the fund that pays unemployment benefits after a record number of Georgians lost their jobs.

Federal relief money that went to the Georgia Department of Education was used for $1,000 teacher bonuses, and extra federal money indirectly paid for state employee bonuses as well.

Kemp’s committees to recommend COVID-19 relief spending

Economic Impact Committee

Alex Atwood, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Administrative Services

Gerlda Hines, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources

Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development

Jeffrey Dorfman, state economist and University of Georgia professor

Robyn Crittenden, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Revenue

Tim Lowrimore, state forester

Brian Marlowe, deputy commissioner for rural Georgia

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia

House Ways and Means Chairman Shaw Blackmon, R-Bonaire

Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus

Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville

Rep. John LaHood, R-Valdosta

Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford

Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Ellenwood

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome

Broadband Infrastructure Committee

Russell McMurry, transportation commissioner

Jannine Miller, transportation planning director

Christopher Nunn, commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs

Teresa MacCartney, interim chancellor of the University System of Georgia

Greg Dozier, technical college system commissioner

Shawnzia Thomas, executive director, Georgia Technology Authority

Richard Woods, state school superintendent

Eric Toler, executive director, Georgia Cyber Center

Michael Nix, executive director, Georgia Emergency Communications Authority

Frank Smith, deputy executive director, State Properties Commission

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia

Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn

Rep. Patty Bentley, D-Butler

Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans

Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia

Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta

Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega

Water and Sewer Infrastructure Committee

Chris Carr, attorney general

David Dove, executive counsel to Kemp

Mark Williams, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources

Rick Dunn, director of the Environmental Protection Division

Kevin Clark, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority

John Eunice, deputy director, EPD

Andrew Pinson, Georgia solicitor general

James Capp, watershed protection branch chief, EPD

Wei Zeng, water protection program manager, EPD

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn

Senate Appropriations Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia

Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas

House Agriculture Chairman Robert Dickey, R-Musella

Sen. Russ Goodman, R-Cogdell

Senate Agriculture Chairman Larry Walker, R-Perry

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson