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Lawmakers concerned about the race to spend pandemic aid

Susan Montoya Bryan

Recently the Legislative Finance Committee met to review the progress of spending New Mexico’s share of federal pandemic aid. There are a lot of projects either on-going or in the planning stages and lawmakers want to make sure those projects get funded before access to those federal dollars expires.

The federal government stepped in to help states that lost revenue during the pandemic with money from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, but those ARPA dollars have to be appropriated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

According to the LFC, $140 million of New Mexico’s $1.75 billion of ARPA money remains unappropriated, but the pace of spending is steady.

The LFC says the state lost at least $1.4 billion of revenue just in 2020. That would have been things like taxes, royalties and rents that did not materialize as our economy went into hibernation at the height of the pandemic.

Senator George Muñoz, D-Gallup, expressed concern about meeting deadlines with the large number of projects from the Department of Transportation and constructing a new hospital in Los Lunas.

Muñoz chuckled after saying “We got free money, right? It fell from the sky. Let’s make sure we burn through it, and ironically, maybe we’ll get lucky.”

LFC Program Evaluation Manager Micaela Fischer told KUNM that New Mexico is facing the same problem as many other states – plenty of money to spend on projects, like rebuilding roads, but not enough staff to do the work.

LFC Director David Abbey suggested watching the projects through the next year with the option of swapping funding to other projects that could be completed more quickly if necessary, but Muñoz said he worried about switching plans too late for projects to move forward before deadlines pass.

Department of Finance and Administration lead attorney Patrick Schaefer said he is confident that state agencies will be able to spend federal recovery dollars in time.

This report is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Kaveh Mowahed is a reporter with KUNM who follows government, public health and housing. Send story ideas to kaveh@kunm.org.
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