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Plan would allow Fort Worth to use COVID relief funds for disaster aid, infrastructure

·2 min read

The U.S. Senate passed a bill this week that could allow Fort Worth to spend millions of federal dollars for areas such as local infrastructure and disaster relief — and though supporters such as Sen. John Cornyn touted it as a big benefit for the city and state, it still has a long way to go.

Key Democrats in the House, which has to give its approval, said Thursday they weren’t even aware of the passage of the legislation.

The bill would allow cities to use up to 30% of the money it received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — the coronavirus spending bill Congress passed in March — on infrastructure and disaster relief.

State and local governments have only been permitted to use the funding on infrastructure projects related to water, sewage and broadband investments.

Fort Worth received more than $173 million from ARPA — the fifth highest among all Texas cities — which means the bill could grant them flexibility to spend around $52 million for infrastructure and disaster relief not related to the COVID pandemic.

In a statement Thursday, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said the supporters of the legislation “clearly see the value in giving local leaders the support and flexibility to utilize pandemic relief funds in the ways that have the greatest impact on their communities.”

She said the legislation “could open new doors in our efforts to keep up infrastructure demands.”

Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the legislation on Tuesday, and it quickly passed the Senate unanimously.

“There never ceases to be demand for infrastructure development — roads, bridges, ports of entry at the border, airports, seaports and the like,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday. “This is, I think, a welcomed flexibility.”

Cornyn said he is hopeful the House of Representatives will pass the bill “quickly.”

But on Thursday, two leading House Democrats — Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic Caucus Chair, and Rosa DeLauro, the Appropriations Committee Chair — told the Star-Telegram they were unaware of the legislation that passed.

“But it sounds like something that is worthy of consideration,” said Jeffries, D-New York.

The Fort Worth City Council voted for its first allocations of ARPA money at its meeting Tuesday, distributing $19.7 million for projects involving early childhood education and affordable housing.

Discussions over how to use unspent coronavirus relief funds have caused rifts between local and federal lawmakers.

Earlier this year, some Republicans in Congress suggested using unspent relief funds to pay for a federal infrastructure package, drawing condemnation from some local leaders.

On May, 14 Democratic state treasurers warned against shifting excess relief money. In a letter to lawmakers, the treasurers said such a move “would result in a massive loss of revenue for large and small communities alike.”

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