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Idaho eyes sewer, water, broadband with federal rescue money

May 10, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho will receive $1.1 billion in the latest round of coronavirus relief money in two separate payments, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Monday, with state officials saying the money could be used to substantially bolster the state’s water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

The $350 billion program is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that became law in March. Administration officials say payments could begin going out in the coming days.

In addition to the money coming to the state, Idaho’s nine largest cities will get a total of $124 million, while 190 cities with populations of typically less than 50,000 will get $108 million. Counties will get another $314 million. The distribution is based on population.

Alex Adams, Republican Gov. Brad Little’s budget chief, said his initial take on the announcement and a 150-page document outlining how the money can be spent contained two surprises.

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First, Adams said, is that the plan allows the money to be allocated by December 2024, with the projects complete by the end of 2026. Adams said the governor’s office sought the longer window for the projects through U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican.

“That’s a huge benefit for a rural state like ours where it’s going to take years for some of these large sewer, water and broadband projects to come to fruition,” Adams said.

The second surprise is that Idaho is getting about $90 million less than expected, apparently the result of Idaho’s economy improving, as a portion of the federal money distribution is based on Idaho’s unemployment rate. Idaho was already expected to get about $250 million less than it would have because the state is doing better economically than other states.

Of the $350 billion total, state governments and the District of Columbia will receive $195.3 billion. That’s broken down to $500 million each for $25.5 billion. The remaining $170 billion is being divided with various factors in play. Idaho is getting about $594 million, accounting for the $1.1 billion coming to state government. California state government is getting $27 billion.

Also, of the $350 billion, counties are getting $65 billion, cities $45.6 billion and tribal governments and territories $24.5 billion.

The money in most cases is going from the federal government to those entities. But in the case of smaller cities, Idaho state government will act as a pass-through entity to distribute the money.

Little has already worked with lawmakers on spending the federal money. The Legislature allocated $50 million for potential and undetermined needs resulting from the pandemic. The rest of the $1.1 billion will go through the Legislature’s budgetary process during the 2022 session that starts in January.

Adams said the latest information from the Treasury Department also clarified that an ongoing tax cut of $163 million and a one-time sales tax and income tax rebate of $220 million passed by the Legislature last week is well within the rules.