Johnson unveils bipartisan bill to fund infrastructure with unspent COVID-19 funds

Seeking to provide state and local officials greater leeway with spending remaining pandemic relief dollars, U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) on Tuesday proposed bipartisan legislation to allow those unspent funds to be directed toward infrastructure projects.

“State governments need flexibility, and this bill is good policy,” Rep. Johnson said. 

The congressman sponsored the State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure, and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act, H.R. 5735, with original cosponsors that included U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-GA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA). The measure is being considered in the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Rep. Johnson’s office explained that under the American Rescue Plan Act and the original CARES Act relief package, most funds were not allowed to be used to pay for infrastructure projects. This bill would provide state and local governments with the flexibility to spend those remaining COVID-19 relief funds. In South Dakota, for example, there is more than $375 million in unused relief dollars. 

“The CARES Act restricted local governments from utilizing relief dollars on certain critical infrastructure projects and the American Rescue Plan prohibits states from returning unused dollars. These are two areas that need to be improved and this bill accomplishes that goal,” Rep. Johnson said.

The bill, if enacted, also permits eligible state and local governments to spend the greater of $10 million or 30 percent of their total fiscal relief funds on projects that fall under the National Highway Performance Program, Tribal Transportation Program, Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, and the Highway Safety Improvement Program, according to a summary of the bill.

The Senate version of the bill, introduced by U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Alex Padilla (D-CA), was passed by unanimous consent on Oct. 19. 

“As we look towards the end of the pandemic, we must ensure our communities have a strong start on the path to recovery,” Rep. Bourdeaux said. “I urge the House to take up the Senate-passed legislation and give our local governments the flexibility they need to thrive.”