Rome News-Tribune

Kemp bashes $1.9T COVID relief package as backers stress benefits

- By Beau Evans

ATLANTA — A $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package moving in Congress that would send aid directly to cities and counties has drawn backlash from Gov. Brian Kemp, who says its funding formula shortchang­es Georgia.

Dubbed the “American Rescue Plan,” the latest relief package would divvy up $195 billion to state government­s based on how many people are unemployed in each state, departing from the formula in previous COVID-19 packages that distribute­d relief based on population.

Kemp slammed the funding formula on Tuesday, arguing it would send less money to states like Georgia that have kept businesses open through most of the pandemic’s tenure, while benefiting states like California and New York that have locked down more often.

But backers of the plan point out an additional $130 billion would be sent directly to city and county government­s based on their population­s and poverty levels, marking a new payment round that skirts state oversight unlike previous packages passed since March of 2020.

They argue Georgia’s share of the new relief funds should hand the state more than $8 billion in COVID-19 aid, of which a large chunk would go straight to struggling city and county government­s and give them more flexibilit­y to shore up their pandemic-struck budgets.

Kemp, a Republican eying reelection in 2022, estimated that tying funding amounts to unemployme­nt would leave Georgia with $1.3 billion less in relief than if allocation­s were based on a state’s population – an amount other analysts in Georgia have not yet verified.

“The COVID-19 relief package, as currently written, is a slap in the face to hardworkin­g Georgians, small businesses and countless families who struggled to make ends meet throughout the pandemic,” Kemp said in an editorial published Monday on Fox News.

“Congress should take action immediatel­y by changing the bill to level the playing field for all states.”

The nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute disputed Kemp’s characteri­zation of the Biden-backed package’s potential impact, though the group has not yet done a full analysis of the $1.9 trillion plan’s many funding branches, said GBPI

Senior Policy Analyst Danny Kanso.

He highlighte­d previous aid packages, including last year’s

$2.2 trillion Coronaviru­s Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which pumped funding through state officials to apportion to local government­s. The current package under considerat­ion is both larger for local government­s and partly cuts out the state as broker, Kanso said.

“The CARES Act sent $150 billion out of the $2.2 trillion plan, so Georgia is currently getting both more raw dollars, and a higher share of the funding is directed specifical­ly to state and local government­s,” Kanso said, noting the latest funding round will send $350 billion to state and local officials.

The nonprofit Georgia Public Policy Foundation, meanwhile, sided with Kemp in questionin­g the unemployme­nt-focused funding formula, agreeing that Georgia’s aid share would be higher with a more population-centric calculatio­n.

Kyle Wingfield, the foundation’s president and CEO, also noted many state and local government­s have not spent all their funds from previous rounds of COVID-19, even as revenues have rebounded in states like Georgia that have kept businesses more open than elsewhere.

“To throw the unemployme­nt rate in there as a new thing is certainly going to distort this allocation in favor of states that have kept their economies closed versus those that have tried to strike a balance between public health and keeping their economies from going into a free-fall,” Wingfield said.

Kemp, who has long touted Georgia’s economic recovery by keeping businesses open during the pandemic, called on recently seated U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to “use their considerab­le influence” in the Democrat-controlled Congress to revise the relief package.

Both Ossoff and Warnock – the first Democrats to capture Georgia’s two Senate seats in 15 years – plan to vote in favor of the new relief package that has backing from President Joe Biden’s administra­tion, their offices confirmed Tuesday.

In a statement, Ossoff said the relief package would help bolster “smaller cities, counties, towns, and rural communitie­s have not received the federal support they need and deserve.”

Separately, Warnock called the package “robust relief” that can now clear the Democrat-controlled Congress “so we can finally get these federal investment­s out the door and into the hands of Georgians who’ve waited too long for help.”

Beyond state and local government funding, the relief package contains dozens of aid measures including billions of dollars to fund COVID-19 testing and vaccine production, emergency rental assistance, extended higher unemployme­nt benefits and $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.

The package gained House passage on Feb. 27 with Georgia’s six Democratic members voting in favor and eight Republican members voting against.

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Kemp
 ??  ?? Sen. Raphael Warnock
Sen. Raphael Warnock
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Sen. Jon Ossoff

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