Abbott Punts Decisions Over $16 Billion In Federal Pandemic Relief To Fall Special Session

The governor has stalled divvying up the money, trying to get waivers from the Biden administration to spend outside the rules.

By Jill Ament & Caroline CovingtonMay 21, 2021 12:38 pm, , , , ,

Texas has $16 billion in federal pandemic relief money that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott now says will be divvied up by lawmakers when they return for a special redistricting session in the fall.

Bob Garrett, Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News, tells Texas Standard that Abbott and other state lawmakers have been reluctant to do anything so far with the funds, which Congress approved for use months ago.

“They’re being very cautious about spending all this federal money,” he said.

That’s partly because they’ve been attempting to get around some of the restrictions the Biden administration put on the money, through waivers. The money can’t be used to cut state taxes or for state pensions, for example, which Garrett says Texas Republicans would support. But stalling hasn’t worked.

“They’re not getting the green light to ignore all of these rules and strings attached to the money,” he said.

Abbott has been able to stall, in part, because Texas is in a much better financial situation than anyone could have predicted a year ago. Garrett says that’s because pandemic shopping has kept sales tax revenue steady.

Still, there are many Texans still in need of assistance. To help, Texas recently released another $12 billion in federal funds for education, to help students recover from pandemic learning loss.

As for the $16 billion, Garrett expects the state to spend it on one-time expenses, and as slowly as possible.

“They’re going to spread it across a lot of programs,” he said.

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