State aims to push ARPA funding through special sessions
Published Sept. 29, 2022 - print edition
From the Desk of Sen. Jessica Garvin
This week, we’ll finalize work on appropriating the state’s more than $1.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds through a special session. The Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding has worked this past year with citizens, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and state agencies to decide how best to utilize this money to help our state and citizens recover from the hardships and issues caused or worsened by the pandemic.
In total, we’ll be voting on 45 projects that account for just over $1.1 billion of our total federal funds. These will help address some of the greatest issues facing our state and will ultimately strengthen our economy, grow our workforce, and help improve our citizens’ quality of life.
The committee has requested that nearly $500 million go towards supporting critical infrastructure upgrades, especially in rural Oklahoma, like broadband, water projects and public safety. The committee has set a goal to provide internet access to every Oklahoma household in the next five years. We remain near the bottom nationwide for connectivity—a fact that became painfully clear during the pandemic.
This funding would also provide much-needed water/wastewater projects and create a statewide coordinated emergency response network. Citizens and businesses need access to clean, safe water, so there are projects to update old systems, run new lines and provide public/private grants for communities to make needed improvements. Given our state is no stranger to natural disasters, ensuring our public safety agencies are properly connected is also imperative so they can respond quickly and efficiently in times of need.
We’ll also be voting on more than $280 million of projects focused on food insecurity and improved health and protective services. Nearly half of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are considered food deserts, meaning citizens must drive more than 10 miles to the nearest grocery store. Organizations like Oasis Fresh Market and Food on the Move will receive funding to expand their efforts to get fresh foods to all Oklahomans. Money would go to services to better protect victims of abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Funds could also be appropriated to support community health centers, expand mobile dental services, and assist nonprofits that helped youth during the pandemic.
Another $223 million has been recommended to support the expansion of mobile telemedicine in rural Oklahoma while also protecting rural hospitals. Significant investments would go towards expanding nursing and other healthcare workforce programs to get 2,500 new healthcare professionals on the job within the next five years. Other projects we’ll be considering include pharmaceutical drug development and research for some of the state’s most prevalent health conditions and diseases like cancer, diabetes, and obesity, as well as improved health and educational services for youth.
Lastly, we’ll look over nearly $178 million in projects to address some of our greatest workforce needs. These will include various training programs for broadband, trucking, digital fabrication, manufacturing, and other growing fields. The committee also wants to invest in educational programs to encourage students to go into high-demand careers like drone technology, aerospace engineering, and cyber security. Funding would also go to expand childcare services and opportunities statewide to help get parents back into the workforce.
To find special session schedules and watch our proceedings live, visit www.oksenate.gov. I’m anxious to learn more about these programs and get this funding approved to move Oklahoma forward. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact me at Jessica.Garvin@oksenate.gov or (405) 521-5522.
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