Lawmakers approve $41 million in federal aid for nonprofits, kids with disabilities
Lawmakers on Wednesday continued doling out Nevada’s $2.7 billion in state general aid from the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP), approving nearly $41 million to support programs for children with disabilities, boost four nonprofits and help fund an apprenticeship program for nurses.
Accounting for those expenditures approved by members of the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (IFC), the state still has $1.9 billion remaining in unobligated general ARP funds — 69 percent of the state’s original share — to allocate for a specific use by the end of 2024.
Since its approval in March 2021, Democratic leaders have hailed the American Rescue Plan — which delivered $6.7 billion to the state — as a chance to make generational changes in Nevada through long-term investments in the economy and public health as the state emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the measure, which passed along party lines in Congress, has been sharply criticized by Republicans who say the big spending from the bill has fueled inflation and contributed to excessive government spending.
Wednesday’s meeting marked the first opportunity for legislators to approve awards for nonprofits from a $30 million ARP community grant program announced by the governor’s office in December.
Members of the committee approved four grants totaling nearly $2 million, including more than $150,000 for Family Support Center (which provides mental health services to residents of Humboldt, Lander and Pershing counties), $202,000 for Baby’s Bounty (which provides infant care resources to low-income families in Southern Nevada) and nearly $630,000 for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada (which aims to reduce food insecurity).
“As we've seen time and time again throughout the pandemic, Nevadans are resilient,” Assemblyman Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said in a statement. “The investments approved by the Interim Finance Committee today will make our communities even stronger.”
IFC Chair Sen. Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas) said he expects to hold several meetings before the committee’s next regularly scheduled meeting in April to approve more awards from the program, as applications from nonprofits are vetted and brought forward by the governor’s office.
Lawmakers also approved a pair of expenditures aimed at bolstering the state’s strained health care workforce, including a nearly $1 million community grant for a job development program run through Goodwill of Southern Nevada aimed at increasing the number of certified nursing and medical assistants in the state, and $20.7 million to supplement Nevada’s nurse apprenticeship program.
The funds will pay for nearly 300 nursing students to help serve as apprentice nurses at more than 90 facilities in Nevada over the course of three years, with the goal of addressing staffing shortages at medical facilities across the state.
“The more we can support these kinds of programs, it’s economic development … for an industry that needs it and for people that need it,” said Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno).
The committee asked the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to report back with details of the program, including where apprentices work across the state.
The committee also replenished a pair of programs run by the treasurer’s office that provide financial assistance to children with disabilities.
The Transforming Opportunities for Toddlers and Students (TOTS) grant program — which provides grants of $5,000 to children with disabilities to use for various expenses, such as education and housing — launched in October with $5 million in funding, but that amount funded grants for only 1,000 children out of more than 2,000 applicants.
Members of the committee approved adding $5 million and allocating another $2 million for grants to children with disabilities in foster care.
“With these additional funds, the Treasurer’s Office will be able to ensure that 2,400 children will be provided with life-changing grants to recover stronger from the pandemic,” Treasurer Zach Conine, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The grants are distributed through ABLE accounts, which are state-run savings accounts that largely do not affect eligibility for income-based public health care, food and housing assistance benefits.
Erik Jimenez, chief policy deputy in the treasurer’s office, said during the meeting that his office has already moved $4.6 million from the TOTS program into ABLE accounts, and that he expects to deliver a report on the performance of the program to the committee within a month after the program closes.
The Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation also received approval to move forward with the first phase of its unemployment insurance system modernization project. The committee authorized the department to use less than $1 million (of the $54 million set aside for the project during the 2021 legislative session) to get the project off the ground, with the funds largely meant to be used for planning, research and development.
Materials from the meeting indicate that the department is aiming to complete the bulk of the project by the time funding expires in 2024.
DonorsChoose program completed
During the committee’s August meeting, lawmakers approved an allocation of $8 million in ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to support teacher projects through DonorsChoose — a nonprofit that helps fund classroom projects requested by school teachers.
On Wednesday, members of the committee heard an update on the program, which concluded in December after helping fund more than 11,000 projects at 626 district and charter schools across the state.
Nearly two-thirds of the projects were in elementary school classrooms, with an additional 18 percent of projects in grade 6-8 classrooms and 16 percent in grade 9-12 classrooms. Funding for the program was most commonly used to address projects in literacy and language (33 percent), followed by math and science (24 percent) and applied learning (17 percent).
“Thank you for allowing the teachers to run the project,” State Superintendent Jhone Ebert told lawmakers. “They know what they need. They're very appreciative.”
Disagreement over state-funded charging stations
Lawmakers approved a slew of other expenditures, including more than $535,000 for building electric vehicle charging stations at state-owned properties across the state. But that appropriation faced pushback from the majority of Republican legislators on the committee, who criticized the idea of using taxpayer dollars to fund a service for a limited number of Nevadans.
“I feel strongly that with the cost of fuel going up for those of us who still drive those vehicles that are gasoline vehicles, the state’s not certainly helping us with that,” Assemblywoman Robin Titus (R-Wellington) said during the meeting. “I feel it's wrong for us to be helping the elitists that have these electronic vehicles. The average citizen does not have these, and so I think the state should not be involved in this.”
The funds will be used to support the installation of charging stations at 11 state agency buildings, including six locations and 30 chargers at buildings in Carson City and six locations and 30 chargers at buildings in the Las Vegas Valley. All charging stations funded through the program will be available for public use.
Lawmakers left open the possibility of introducing a charging rate for the state-owned electric vehicle stations, but Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas) pushed back on the criticisms.
“We have bathrooms in every single state building, and we don't charge people for the water in the bathrooms,” she said. “So let's just try to incentivize this. It doesn't mean people have to use them. It means it's an option for them to use.”
The measure was approved largely along party lines, with Assemblyman Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas) joining Democrats in support.