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State Legislators Get ARPA Spending Update

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State legislators sat in a virtual briefing on federal relief spending Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Screenshot/MGA - APP Livestream

State lawmakers pressed budget officials Wednesday afternoon on whether they’ll use federal dollars to help school systems dealing with staff shortages.

During a briefing on federal relief spending, Del. Jared Solomon, a Montgomery County Democrat, asked whether any of that money will go to alleviating the shortage in bus drivers.

State budget officials told a joint House-Senate committee that school systems already have plenty of resources. Marc Nicole, Deputy Secretary of Budget and Management, said schools have $2 billion in federal relief.

“I think they need to maybe just get a little more creative about how they use the money that they're already receiving,” Nicole said.

But Solomon pushed back, saying school systems are using that money for reopening safely and catching up on learning loss.

“I think we need to think more creatively as a whole on how to address this issue, because we’re all going to suffer,” Solomon said.

Another Montgomery County Democrat, Sen. Craig Zucker, asked whether federal relief money could go to helping retain healthcare workers who have been burned out by the stress of the pandemic.

Zucker said he has received calls from some local hospitals over the past couple days. He asked whether the state would consider using money from its COVID-19 health reserve, which has been allocated $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“I know that we're on the tail end, hopefully...of this pandemic,” Zucker said. “Our frontline workers are overextended and having fatigue.”

David Brinkley, Secretary of Budget and Management, said money alone might not be enough to retain healthcare workers.

“Some of them are saying, ‘I don't care what you pay me, I'm done,’” Brinkley said. “We have to also make sure that we're not just throwing some money at a problem and not necessarily fixing the problem.”

State budget officials also addressed rental assistance, affordable childcare and other areas affected by the pandemic.