BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Thursday that the state will be deliberative in spending about $2.2 billion it is receiving in the latest round of federal coronavirus relief money.
It is the third round of federal relief money coming to Idaho following infusions last fall and last spring. The state received a similar amount in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic was taking hold in Idaho and there was little understanding of and no vaccine for the virus. The state was given nine months to spend that money.
The state has until 2024 to spend most of the latest infusion.
“This time around, we have nearly four years to spend the new funds," Little said. “This time around, we’re not in crisis mode. We’ve learned a lot about the disease, how it spreads, and how to best protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
The Republican governor said he will work with the Legislature to find projects that will benefit future generations of Idaho residents who will have to pay off the federal debt being added to with the $1.9 trillion federal program. He said that if Idaho didn’t take the money, some other state would get it.
“That is unacceptable,” Little said during the 30-minute news conference. “Therefore, Idaho will accept the allocation for our state.”
About 175,000 Idaho residents have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 1,900 have died. But about 200,000 residents have received both shots of the two-shot vaccine, and another 125,000 have received the first shot. About 1.8 million people live in the state.
Idaho is getting $1.89 billion in discretionary funds that includes $1.2 billion to fight COVID-19. But the $1.2 billion can also be used for water projects and broadband infrastructure.
Another $126 million of the discretionary funds are for capital projects that are defined as enabling work, education and health monitoring.
Counties are getting $347 million.
Nine of Idaho's largest cities — Boise, Caldwell, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Meridian, Nampa, Pocatello and Twin Falls — will divvy up $125 million.
Another 191 smaller cities will split $104 million, with that distribution based on population.
Besides those discretionary funds, Idaho is betting another $981 million in direct funds going to state agencies for specific purposes such as public school support, childcare grants, meals on wheels and substance abuse block grants.
Some of that $981 million, mostly for K-12 public education, must be spent within 30 to 60 days. Little said he has been working with lawmakers on legislation this year to use that money. The Legislature is planning to adjourn at the end of this month.
Little said the relief money would not be used to create ongoing programs the state would end up paying for once the federal money runs out.
Besides the discretionary and direct funds, more than $2 billion in federal money is being sent to businesses and individuals in Idaho in the form of stimulus checks and other economic support, which should also help boost the state's economy.
Little said the state is being shortchanged by about $250 million because allocations are in part based on unemployment, and Idaho is in better economic shape than most states. Idaho’s unemployment rate is about 4%.
Despite the pandemic, the state has been running a healthy budget surplus. Lawmakers in the House on Wednesday approved a $389 million tax cut that includes $169 million in ongoing income tax cuts for individuals and corporations and a $220 million rebate to Idaho residents who paid income taxes for 2019.
The tax-cut bill arrives as Republican attorneys general from 21 states, including Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, question a provision in the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue plan that bars states from using its funds to offset tax cuts.
Little's plan for the relief money released Thursday doesn't include tax cuts.