CARSON CITY — With the deadline to spend it or lose it less than two weeks away, Nevada lawmakers on Friday approved more than $200 million in allocations of federal COVID-19 relief dollars.
The majority of those funds were approved to pay for salaries of state workers — including $81 million for Department of Corrections employee salaries — as well as personal protective equipment and administrative costs of employees working from home during the pandemic, which raised the eyebrows of some lawmakers.
“My concern is that using these dollars to ultimately bolster our ending fund balance when we could be using them to help Nevadans who are hungry and in fear of losing their homes and out of work, whether that’s the highest and best use of these dollars,” Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said during Friday’s meeting.
Kieckhefer, who voted for the moves, added, “At the same time, I don’t want to give them back to the federal government.”
Governments have until Dec. 30 to commit the money allocated under the CARES Act or be forced to return the remaining dollars.
Susan Brown, the director of the Governor’s Finance Office, pointed to state budget cuts made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the additional cuts the state is expecting to make, as reasoning behind the allocations.
“The state has made some pretty large cuts to the budget, nearing about $1 billion for fiscal years ‘20 and ‘21,” Brown said. “Putting some of this money back into the state to help bolster the state budget during this fiscal crisis seems like a prudent thing to do. This will help us moving forward as we make additional cuts to the budget.”
Lesley Mohlenkamp, the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund coordinator, said that the state had about $17.1 million left to allocate, but told lawmakers that they’d have those dollars committed before the deadline.
“We have actually the remaining funds prioritized to areas where we see immediate assistance to Nevadans,” Mohlenkamp said.