The legislative Interim Finance Committee on Friday approved a series of grants to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic totaling $28.75 million.
The grants covered a range of needs ranging from expanding access to rental assistance for businesses to plans to distribute the vaccine once a vaccine is available.
The largest of the grants is the $20 million for rental assistance. State Treasurer Zach Conine and Michael Brown, head of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development said at this point, $8.5 million has been identified to help small businesses. Conine agreed with Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez Thompson, D-Reno, that there is a significant amount of money in addition to the remaining $11.5 million in that pot that could conceivably be transferred to support residential rent assistance if not needed for businesses. He and Brown estimated the total at $37.5 million.
But Brown said that would require approval from the governor’s office and IFC.
They said there are a lot of other needs for any extra money in that program including non-profit groups that provide behavioral healthcare services.
Lawmakers approved $1.83 million to cover costs of planning and distributing the vaccine once it has been approved.
They approved spending just over $1 million for studies Conine said are intended to help Nevada prepare “a targeted, comprehensive plan” to deal with the next pandemic. Facing tough questions from some IFC members who said they would rather spend the money on needs agencies have already identified than on a study that would likely end up gathering dust on a shelf, Conine said that isn’t the goal for this project. He said agencies know what they need money for but have been unable for decades to find the money.
“This is to find out how to pay for it,” he said.
He said it will give the state the tools needed to get more money from outside the state, both federal dollars and some of the billions in private dollars potentially available to put into an infrastructure bank.
Right now, he said, the only way Nevada can attract new businesses is tax breaks.
“We have to pay businesses to come here because the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” he said. Brown said that includes expanding broadband access across Nevada.
They were backed by Sen. Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, who said out of state businesses have told him Nevada “ takes a piecemeal approach” to dealing with the issue.
“Trillions of dollars would come to Nevada if Nevada would take a more coordinated approach,” he said. “It’s necessary and timely and long overdue.”
Thompson and Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, as well as IFC Chair Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, voted against the plan saying they would prefer to spend the money on program needs rather than a study.
The other 18 members of IFC supported the plan.
The committee approved $1.2 million in CARES Act funding to develop a Nevada Labor Certification Plan and a Workforce Skills Matching program. Deputy GOED Director Bob Potts said $500,000 of that would be for a state-of-the-art computer platform that will bring all the workforce agencies together. He said it will get employers, workers and workforce training programs all on the same page.
“It tells us who is hiring and what they’re looking for, “ he said, adding that it then matches the skills in the workforce with the jobs available and, if there’s a gap between the two, works with the training programs to cover that skills gap.
They approved $4.6 million for tourism and Cultural Affairs. Officials said because of the hotel, motel and other lodging closures caused by the pandemic, they have received just over $4 million of the $15 million they were projected to receive in room tax revenue. The addition of the CARES Act money, they said, would double their ability to assist rural tourism with recovery efforts.