The Standard Journal

Survey: Economic aid, health care top priority for COVID relief money

- By Dave Williams

Health care and economic assistance should get top priority when it comes to spending $4.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief Georgia is receiving through the American Rescue Plan, according to a new poll.

The survey of 1,042 registered Georgia voters commission­ed by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute found that 33.8% rated restoring economic security to Georgians affected by the pandemic as their top priority for the federal money. Health care was next, with 24.1% of respondent­s rating it as their highest priority.

The poll, released last Thursday, was conducted July 21-24 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public Affairs Survey Research Center.

Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed three committees to review applicatio­ns for the federal funding from state agencies, local government­s, businesses and nonprofits. The committees, which began taking applicatio­ns this week, will focus on three categories of projects: broadband deployment, water and sewer improvemen­ts, and projects aimed at offsetting the economic impact of COVID-19.

“As COVID cases continue to rise, Georgia leaders face a unique opportunit­y to invest in our state’s people and help our communitie­s recover and thrive,” GBPI spokeswoma­n Caitlin Highland said.

“Although the state currently plans to focus on one-time investment­s … polling shows the majority of people want the state to build on these priorities by enacting solutions that leverage the power of our people – through increased support of health care, economic opportunit­y and education.”

Indeed, 63.7% of those who responded to the poll called for spending Georgia’s allocation of ARP funding on priorities other than broadband, water and sewer projects and economic impact.

A huge majority – 84.1% — called for using the money to restore budget cuts Kemp and the General Assembly imposed during the early months of the pandemic last year.

While Georgia ended the last fiscal year June 30 sitting on a large surplus, Kemp has asked most state agency heads not to request spending increases in next year’s budgets.

Solid majorities of those voters surveyed supported converting the federal funds into various forms of direct payments to low-income Georgia families. Nearly 70% called for the creation of a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit.

Almost 76% of the respondent­s supported increased funding for Georgia’s elementary and secondary schools, with the money dedicated to students from low-income families.

In keeping with the respondent­s’ desire to use the federal money for purposes other than those being focused on by the three committees, 43.1% said the funds should be allocated by the General Assembly through the normal budgeting process. A slightly smaller 37.5% supported having the governor’s office distribute the federal aid.

Kemp and Republican legislativ­e leaders have pointed to the one-time nature of the ARP funding in limiting its uses to one-time investment­s rather than committing to ongoing expenses the state might not be able to cover when the program expires in 2024.

The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3%.

 ?? J. scott applewhite ?? The morning sun illuminate­s the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.
J. scott applewhite The morning sun illuminate­s the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013.

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