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Kemp names 3 panels to vet $4.8B in COVID-19 relief spending

June 29, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed three committees to advise him on how to spend $4.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid allotted to Georgia.

The Republican on Tuesday named panels to vet applications to spend money to expand high-speed internet access, rehabilitate and expand water and sewer infrastructure and to offset the economic harm of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state would have been allowed to use the money to offset revenue decreases, but Georgia’s revenues are projected to be up significantly in the budget year that ends Wednesday. The surplus could be so high that the state could reach the maximum limit on its rainy day fund.

Instead, Kemp decided he wanted to spend the money on the three designated purposes. The governor promised lawmakers in the closing days of the regular session that they would have input in how the money is spent. However, the money is being spent outside the $27.2 billion state budget controlled by the General Assembly and Kemp will get the final say on how every penny is doled out.

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Each of the panels has between seven and nine lawmakers. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England of Auburn and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery of Vidalia, both Republicans, are on all three panels. Each panel includes one or two Democratic lawmakers.

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

The panels will take applications from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31, and Kemp says he wants to announce decisions in mid-October. State and local governments, businesses and nonprofit groups can all apply.

Georgia has received half the money so far. It must decide how to spend all of the money by the end of 2024 and spend it all by the end of 2026.

The various arms of Georgia’s government have already spend billions in federal aid, including $1,000 bonuses for preschool, K-12, college and state employees. Kemp has also used much of the money to shore up the finances of Georgia’s unemployment system, seeking to avoid an unemployment tax on businesses.

Lawmakers agreed to use some of the money from one of the earlier rounds of federal relief to create a $40 million rural innovation fund and to spend $10 million to extend high-speed internet in rural areas.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.