RI COVID-19 Spending Task Force meets for the first time
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The state’s COVID-19 Emergency Funding Task Force met for the first time Thursday afternoon to discuss how the state will spend $1.25 billion in federal funds in the fight against the coronavirus.
The task force is made up of ten Democrats and two Republicans from both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
These members will essentially be representing the legislature as a whole when deciding how to allocate the funds.
So far, the state has spent or has committed to spend around $158 million on things like testing, lab supplies, PPE, ventilators, and local hospital preparations. An additional $41 million was spent on creating the state’s three field hospitals.
The governor’s team said funds will also need to be set aside for contact tracing and quarantine and isolation housing options.
The task force, according to Sen. William Conley, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Co-Chair of the task force, is meant to offer transparency and accountability on how the $1.25 billion in federal funding will be spent.
“It’s all about us working together to make sure that Rhode Islanders are protected and the highest and best and most efficient use of these funds create the most health and safety for Rhode Islanders,” Conley said.
Conley also said the initial $1.25 billion from the feds is a great start, but the state will need more down the line.
“There’s two parts to this: There’s the response and then there’s the recovery. What we’re looking at right now are the funds available for the response. We will need more money from the federal government for the recovery,” said Sen. Conley.
The lawmakers are meeting both in-person and virtually so they can adhere to social distancing guidelines handed down by the Dept. of Health and Gov. Raimondo.
Conley said this first meeting is all about lawmakers getting updates from the governor’s staff as to where the state stands.
“This is not about a legislative effort to micromanage this process. This is about all of us being partners together to make sure we’re doing everything we can collaboratively,” Conley said.
Once the meeting got underway, Rep. Marvin Abney, Co-chair of the taskforce, opened by saying the state will eventually have to deal with maintaining an expected strained budget because of COVID-19.
“There’s never enough money to fight something like this. This is a tough enemy,” said Abney.
Abney added that the task force is meant to give a collective perspective on where the state stands in the battle.
First to speak during the meeting was Brett Smiley, Acting Director of the Department of Administration.
Smiley weighed-in on where the state stands as far as the distribution of high-in-demand personal protective equipment, and expenditures related to things like ventilators.
Smiley presented a slideshow to the 12-member committee, breaking down the governor’s emergency powers under state law. He also reminded lawmakers that emergency orders handed down by the governor cannot last more than 30 days but they can be renewed.
Smiley said under emergency powers Raimondo has the power to allocate both state and federal funds.
Under the emergency orders, Smiley said there’s nothing legally prohibiting the General Assembly from reconvening, as it wouldn’t be considered a social gathering, adding that that’s a decision left up to the General Assembly itself.
It’s not known when the task force will be meeting again, but Sen. Conley said it all depends on circumstances surrounding the coronavirus.