Rescue plan

Alabama lawmakers set aside US bailout funds for Black Belt improvements | News from Marion

Alabama Democrats and advocates for the poor say they like what they see in a plan to distribute $772 million in federal pandemic funds, particularly to improve water and sanitation infrastructure. sewers in the black belt.

But they would like to see more help for Alabama’s poorest residents.

The Alabama Legislature is in the middle of a special session to allocate funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Identical bills have been introduced in the House and Senate outlining how the Republican majority proposes to allocate the funds. The invoices provide:

  • $225 million to improve access to clean water through investments in water and sewer infrastructure projects.
  • $120 million to water and sewer systems for emergency or high need projects identified in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund or the Drinking Safer State Revolving Fund. Projects would be selected according to a ranking system established by the Department of Environmental Management.
  • $100 million in matching grants to public water and sewer systems for water or sewer infrastructure projects.
  • $5 million in grants to install demonstration cluster decentralized sanitation systems using a collection system known as a septic tank effluent pump or other demonstration system in the Black Belt region of Alabama with low population density, rural poverty and/or soils with poor perc characteristics where there is a finding of raw sewage discharge onto the ground due to the use of straight pipes, systems failing septic tanks or similar circumstances. This is a concern in the black belt.
  • $80 million to support the delivery of pandemic-related health care through reimbursement of eligible expenses.
  • $51 million to support, improve and expand the state’s broadband network.
  • $20 million for emergency response provider assistance.
  • $11 million to reimburse counties for state inmates housed in county jails from March 3, 2021 through December 31, 2021.
  • $30 million for assistance to rural hospitals based on the number of beds.
  • $37 million to support the delivery of pandemic-related health care and services, including through assisted living facilities.
  • $5 million to facilitate the expansion of telemedicine.

Representative Prince Chestnut of District 67 stood with other Democrats at a press conference last week in support of the plan. He told the Times Standard that the legislature must ensure funds “are distributed fairly and equitably.”

“Our concern as we discuss these appropriations will be to ensure that these funds meet our most important needs first, in a responsible, transparent and accountable manner,” Chestnut said.

He said he supported efforts to improve water and sewage systems in rural areas. “The bottom line is that clean water and safe disposal of sewage should be a right,” Chestnut said. “It should be taken for granted. It is the least we can do as representatives of the State of Alabama to ensure that our citizens have these much needed fundamentals.

Robyn Hyden, executive director of Alabama Arise, told a joint meeting of the House and Senate General Fund Budget Committees that the poor advocacy group ‘applauds’ the commitment to water drinking water, sewers and infrastructure, “especially in Alabama’s black belt, where sewer infrastructure is a critical need.

“We urge you and the Department of Environmental Management to provide these funds with as few barriers and as few red tape as possible so that the communities most in need can benefit the most,” said Hyden to budget committees.

But Haden said more could be done. “Last week, Alabama Arise and Cygnal surveyed a random sample of likely 2022 voters and asked them how Alabama should spend ARPA dollars,” she said. “Strong majorities supported using these funds to expand access to medical care, including Medicaid and mental health services, and as an investment in rural hospitals and access to affordable care. “

Strong majorities also supported using ARPA dollars to expand access to affordable housing and public transportation, especially in rural areas, she said.